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Report: Public employees aren’t overpaid

LANSING — A new report from the Washington D.C. based Economic Policy Initiative (EPI) released Thursday casts doubt on the accuracy of claims by Republican lawmakers that the state’s public employees are overpaid compared to the private sector.

“State government employees are currently undercompensated,” says Jeffrey Keefe, an associate professor in Labor and Employment Relations at Rutgers University. Keefe authored the study, titled “Are Michigan Public Employees Over-Compensated?

The EPI report found that public employees, when compared for education with private sector positions, make 7.15 percent less in both pay and benefits overall. The report also found that public sector employees often received lower salaries in exchange for more handsome benefit packages such as retirement and health insurance.

“Before Gov. Rick Snyder takes the budget machete to the public workforce, he should look at the facts and consider what kind of Michigan we want in the future,” says David Holtz, executive director of Progress Michigan. “The facts are clear: Michigan’s public employees, from road and food safety workers to school staff and teachers to nurses, police and fire fighters are NOT overpaid as some politicians have claimed. Public employees provide vital services that are crucial to Michigan’s future, and further cuts to services and staff will only put that future at risk.”

The report’s release comes four days after Republican Gov. Rick Snyder released his fiscal health report on state finances to the public. Snyder’s document claimed state workers made significantly more money than private sector employees.

Snyder, however, cautioned against using those numbers as the end all, be all of the question related to public employees. He noted the numbers were not an “apples to apples” comparison, instead calling it “meta-data.”

In fact, in a press gaggle with reporters following his Monday appearance, Snyder seemed to invite a report like EPI’s.

“I’m happy to have people react to it (the fiscal health report) whether they agree with it or don’t agree with it, because that may bring other data forward that might be worthwhile to consider,” Snyder said. “This is an open dialog.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new study Thursday.

But the EPI report is not the first such report to conclude state employees are being paid less than private sector counter parts. Citizens for Accountability in Reform reported last month that there are six such studies in just the last three years. A 2008 House Fiscal Agency report reached similar conclusions.

Republican Speaker of the House James ‘Jase’ Bolger’s spokesperson said that such comparisons are not the only basis for potential cuts.

“Speaker Bolger has said that, as part of the budget process, we must review state employee compensation — including salary and benefits. We will be looking for reports that provide comprehensive comparisons to private sector employees, so the new report today is a welcome addition to our review,” Ari Adler tells Michigan Messenger. “Regardless of any reports, we also are faced with trying to bring spending under control to balance the state’s budget. How state employee salary and benefits compare to the private sector will be just one of the factors we look at when determining whether adjustments to their compensation are necessary.”

Advocates for public employees also weighed in, calling on the governor and legislature to find somewhere else to look for cuts other than public employees.

“Gov. Rick Snyder has made clear that he will make decisions based on the facts, and the facts show Michigan’s public employees have made sacrifices and continue to make sacrifices to save taxpayer dollars,” says Holtz. “Michigan’s public employees are among the first to help reform and streamline government so our citizens get good services and value for money. To effectively and fairly fix government, Gov. Snyder must ask everyone to share in the sacrifices, not just state employees.”

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