FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Shad Olson, South Dakota Tea Party Alliance, (605) 716-7842
Zach Lautenschlager, South Dakota Campaign for Liberty, (605) 431-3140
Pierre, S.D.–Conservative watchdog groups are adding their voices to the chorus of criticism over obscene compensation packages paid to South Dakota’s Executive employees. The criticism stems from the recently publicized conflict between Governor Dennis Daugaard and state investment officer, Matt Clark, which cast a revelatory and damaging spotlight on salaries many consider outrageously high for the public sector.
“Learning that a state level employee like Mr. Clark is paid nearly $400,000, before benefits and bonuses, simply adds to a belief on the part of many taxpayers that their government is out of touch,” said Rip Ryness, Executive Director of South Dakota Campaign for Liberty.
“Hearing that Mr. Clark was also prepared to submit a budget that ignored Governor Daugaard’s call for an across the board, 10% reduction in spending is also troubling, given the current uncertainties faced by so many South Dakotans.”
While Clark has subsequently called the matter a miscommunication and has indicated a willingness to take a pay cut, the controversy has motivated a closer inspection of South Dakota’s executive salaries list and more questions about compensation levels and salary increases at a time when both the state budget and the private sector are struggling to do more with less. Critics like South Dakota Tea Party Alliance President, Shad Olson, say dozens of positions boasting salaries at or above $200,000, are particularly difficult to justify when set against simultaneous spending cuts proposed for South Dakota schools.
“The belief that the Investment Office, or any other executive level state employee should somehow be insulated from belt tightening is insulting,” Olson said. “Ask the average employee in the private sector if they received a cost of living adjustment last year, much less a 100-percent bonus, and then decide whether such departmental bias is warranted.”
Investment office employees including the investment officer, a deputy and an assistant, are eligible to receive performance-based bonuses of up to 100-percent of their previous year’s base pay, meaning they might make as much as double their publicized salary. Bonuses are taken directly from funds managed by the investment office.
“When even an assistant investment officer is paid $209,000, I think there is appropriate room for examining whether such compensation levels might represent an abuse of taxpayer generosity,” Olson said. “I think there is an expectation that any work that is done in the public interest is an opportunity for service and sacrifice, not for abject enrichment that might be better applied to easing the burden on taxpayers.”
With an estimated $140-million structural shortfall in the coming fiscal year, conservative groups are urging lawmakers to find ways to streamline government departments and avoid a need for a tax increase of any kind.
“No one is here to say how much anyone deserves to earn for their given skillset, talent or education,” Olson said. “What we are saying is that the current economic climate makes it difficult to support or defend salary levels and increases that aren’t reflective of what’s happening in the economy at large.”
Both Olson and Ryness say conservative groups will continue to hammer the need for fiscal sanity as the 2011 legislative session moves along.
“The Governor made a promise not to raise taxes,” Ryness said. “I believe the pressure of public opposition to any tax increase will go a long way toward helping him keep that promise, no matter how much pressure special interest groups, including state employees, might apply to individual legislators in the weeks to come.”