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Critics slam study on state worker compensation

Published September 27, 2012 5:41 pm

Budget • Watchdog group says Utah public employees paid equivalent to private-sector counterparts.
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Washington • Utah is tops in the nation in paying its state employees close to their private sector counterparts, a new report says.

But the findings contrast with that of a study released to Utah lawmakers last year showing state workers are paid a tenth less than employees in private businesses.

The Washington-based Citizens Against Government Waste released its study, titled "Public Servants or Privileged Class" at a news conference on Thursday, assigning grades to states for their compensation packages to employees.

The nonprofit group gave Utah a "C" grade but noted that it was the state where government paychecks most closely matched private salaries and benefits.

"Utah, on average, is the closest to the private sector," said John Dunham, a New York-based economist hired by the group to conduct the study.

Dunham's report says that Utah state employees are paid about $4 more per hour as compared to private wages and benefits. On the other side, Texas pays nearly $14 more, the highest average in the nation.

But critics quickly jumped on the findings, noting a report given to the Utah Legislature in 2011 said state employees make about 10 percent less than those doing similar work in private business.

The state Department of Human Resource Management commissioned that study, which shows that when benefits are factored in, total compensation for a median state worker was $76,287, compared to $82,547 in Utah's private sector.

Todd Sutton, an employee representative for the Utah Public Employees Association, disputed the Citizens Against Government Waste report, saying the conclusions didn't make sense.

"The problem with their study is they don't reveal how they came to the conclusions they came to," Sutton said. "From the surface, it seems it has a lot of potential for being biased."

Larry Mishel, president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute in Washington and a labor market economist, agreed.

"I certainly don't believe any of the state numbers," he said after reviewing the CAGW study. "The methodology is opaque and the results are implausible."

tburr@sltrib.com