Shining The Spotlight On Public Sector Fat Cats

government employee salaries

By Douglas Carswell for RealClearPolicy

Mississippi is one of the poorest states in America, yet manages to have some of the highest paid public officials in the country. 

The Mississippi Fat Cat report published last week reveals what some of the highest paid officials make in our state — and compares top public pay to what the average Mississippi nurse, State Trooper and worker earn.

If you thought that the highest paid public official would be the governor, think again. Our state’s governor does not even make the list.

Instead, our highest paid public official is the State Superintendent for Public Education who pulls in a cool $300,000 a year. This eye watering amount makes them the most highly paid State Superintendent in the United States — despite presiding over some of the worst education outcomes in America.

Almost half of the highest paid public officials on our list are education administrators. The average annual salary of the 24 School Board Superintendents on our list is $175,000 a year, more even than the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court ($174,000).

Why does this matter? Public services, according to the prevailing narrative, can only be improved if we spend more public money. Poor public service provision, especially in education in states like Mississippi, we are told, is a consequence of underfunding.

Our report undermines the idea that throwing more public money at public officials produces better public services. In fact, it shows that some of the highest paid superintendents run some of the worst performing school boards, with the lowest student numbers.

If underfunding really was the overriding problem in F and D rated school districts, how come they have enough money to pay their superintendents more than the governor? Given that over 60 school superintendents in Mississippi are paid more than the governor, underfunding might not be quite the issue some school administrators like to imply. 

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Revealing the truth about top public sector pay in our state helps shift the climate of opinion away from the idea that a lack of money is the main problem. Our report suggests a chronic lack of accountability might have something to do with not only poor teaching standards but soaring administrator salaries.

Conservative politicians like to talk about tax cuts. But, they often go on to say, the timing is not right. The public finances are not healthy enough to give people a tax break quite yet. So how come there always seems to be enough money to pay public officials such high salaries?

Conservatives often attack the administrative state in Washington DC, with its army of federal agencies making public policy with little accountability to the public.

Our report invites conservatives to ask how we have allowed an administrative state to emerge in supposedly conservative states like Mississippi, too. How are we ever going to dismantle the administrative state in DC in the future if we cannot control soaring public sector salaries in blue states today?

How ought we control top public sector pay? One positive finding in our report is that local and municipal officials hardly feature among top public sector pay at all. This implies that proximity to the taxpayer is an effective safeguard against excessive pay.

Our report proposes a number of ways in which we might make public officials more directly accountable to the public. Too often politics, especially in states where one party prevails, becomes a cartel.

The most effective antidote to cosy cartels is a healthy injection of public accountability.

Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.

Douglas Carswell is the President & CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. The Mississippi Fat Cat Report can be read on at

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