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Facts put lie to stereotypes of state workers

By By Sid Salter
Jan. 23, 2002
How many Department of Transportation workers does it take to fix a highway pothole? Eight. Two to block traffic, two to fix the pothole and four to sleep under the orange MDOT truck while the job's under way.
You've heard the jokes. You may have told the jokes. And MDOT's is certainly not the only butt of such stereotypes about state workers. According to the barber shop, coffee shop and talk radio experts, state employees are (in no certain order) lazy, arrogant, incompetent, greedy and overpaid.
The reality is different, of course. Just as one can find sub-par workers in private sector enterprises, it's likely that a few state workers are less than motivated. But the vast majority work hard and serve well and they hear the jokes, the slurs and the insults.
Meet your employees
While it's great fun for some to perpetuate the stereotypes of state employees as the village idiots, the facts as cited by the State Personnel Board put matters in perspective.
There are currently 38,204 state employee positions authorized by the Legislature. 32,203 of the those positions are filled leaving 6,001 vacancies.
59.2 percent of those employees are female. 40.8 percent are male. 54.7 percent of those employees are white. 45.3 percent are minorities. The average age of the workers is 42.3 years.
The average salary of our state employees is $27,649 some $2,007 less than the average state employee in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee earns for the same job. And that's the good news. The bad news? 61.4 percent of Mississippi state employees make less than our own state average.
11.6 percent of our state employees make $40,000 or higher in annual salary. 12.05 percent make $15,999 or less in annual salary. 2.3 percent make $60,000 or more per year.
Bottom line? The average state worker in Mississippi is a 42-year-old white female making $27,649 per year.
Bottom line? 16 percent of the legislatively-authorized state jobs are vacant but demand for state services remains constant and is indeed increasing in terms of Medicaid and other programs.
Taxpayer, choose your poison.
Spending out of control
Based on 2000 U.S. Census figures for the latest 50-state comparison available, Mississippi ranked 31st in state revenue collected at $10.7 billion with $3,865 paid in taxes and fees per capita.
Mississippi likewise ranked 31st in state government expenditures at $9.9 billion with $3,585 spent in government services per capita.
The 1999 difference in revenue and expenditures per capita? $280 per Mississippian. The margin's thinner now.
While a simplistic scapegoat for Mississippi's current fiscal woes is the commitment of the state to raise teacher pay and to give a little something this year to state employees and higher education employees, it's just not accurate.
Government spending on the whole goods and services, salaries, programs, facilities, and administration is closer to exceeding revenue than it has been in a decade. State government has borrowed against cash reserves, left positions unfilled, cut budgets and taken other measures to bring revenue and expenditures in line.
The Legislature can and should do more of those things as is dictated in the private sector. But failing to keep state employee and state higher education employee salaries in the ballpark of competitive would be shortsighted.
As to the "experts," call up MDOT and volunteer to take a shift on the orange trucks. Might be educational. Might make the jokes less funny, too.

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