State Government: A Crisis in Management

Since his first day in office, Governor Christie has repeatedly attacked the compensation of public sector employees.  Like a well trained sniper, Governor Christie has successfully picked off individuals with “egregious” and “bloated” salaries.  Through these actions, Governor Christie has drawn a line in the sand relative to public employee compensation……nobody in state government should earn more than its Chief Executive Officer.  New Jersey’s career managers completely agree with Governor Christie’s approach, and urge the Governor to point his sniper rifle at the rest of state government to ensure that career managers in state government earn more than those they manage.

In 2005 there were 3,500 career managers – today there are about 2,000, and their number is rapidly shrinking.  Why are there fewer managers today than five years ago…..because most managers make less money than their subordinates and have seen their salaries frozen for over three (3) years.

In 1985, former Governor Thomas Kean removed career managers from the State’s compensation plan and capped their salaries at $50,000.  He did this to keep career managers’ salaries from infringing upon the salaries of cabinet officials.  Since that time, unionized employees have been granted regular raises via two methods; annual increments of 4.5% for the first 10 1/2 years in a title; and negotiated cost of living adjustment raises (COLA).

Career managers, on the other hand, have not been granted any annual increments since 1985, and have received sporadic COLAs. As a result of the twenty five years of inequity, career managers have received less than half of the raises of unionized employees.  This has led to severe “compression,” where career managers are making $5,000 to $10,000 less than their subordinates.

Unfortunately, this situation has been greatly exacerbated by the most recent negotiated COLAs given out in July 2010 by Governor Christie.  Between 2007 and 2011, unionized employees in the State of New Jersey will have received 13% COLAs, while career managers received 0%.   The fact of the matter is, by 2011, the majority of career managers in State government will be earning thousands of dollars less than their subordinates.

Clearly, as a direct result of inaction by the Legislature and Administration, career managers have spoken with their feet by departing state government and/or leaving the state entirely.  However, the amazing fact is that the remaining managers have continued to perform in a heroic fashion by taking on the burdens of their departing comrades.  By failing to deal with this middle management crisis, very few unionized staff are seeking a promotion to management because as unionized employees they are guaranteed raises.  For example, as of January 2011, a Section Chief (S-30) in State government would have to take a $7,500 salary decrease to be “promoted” to a Bureau Chief (M- 32) with more responsibility.

Career managers in New Jersey have been represented by the Public Sector Managers’ Association (PSMA) since 1992.  While PSMA has achieved some notable successes over the past 18 years, they have been unable to achieve a lasting and sustainable solution.  The leadership and members of PSMA are driven by one simple principle – a principle Governor Christie appears to have fully embraced – subordinates should not be receiving compensation higher than their managers.

Good government requires management that is compensated in a fair and equitable manner.  We urge Governor Christie to mend this “crisis in management” by treating career managers as partners in State Government, and advancing a realistic and sustainable fix to the inequities that have been allowed to continue far too long.  Turn that sniper rifle inside the halls of New Jersey’s executive agencies and make things right.

Lisa Ginther is the Executive Director of the Public Sector Managers’ Association State Government: A Crisis in Management