Education Officials, Not Governors, Are Top Government Earners

A recent Council of State Governments survey shows that while the Governor is considered a chief executive of a state, unlike a chief executive of most companies, he or she is not always the highest paid employee. According to Melissa Maynard of Pew's Stateline blog, the Governors who get the biggest paycheck of any government employee in their state are a tiny minority.

The survey lists only Nevada, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington as states where the Governors are the highest paid. However, the focus of its report, published in the popular Book of the State, are the administrators in categories that frequently outearn them. Specifically, those heading up the states' education, solid waste management, or public utility regulation efforts.

CSG focuses on only a discrete category of the state workforce — the top administrator in 49 categories — for its Book of the States, a popular reference on state governments. The review does not include every state administrator and may not capture the highest administrative salary in each state. It also does not include very highly paid state employees in fields such as athletic coaching and health care.

"While governors' salaries are one key item shared in The Book of the States, the other 49 administrative officials' salaries tracked over time provide an even more complete picture of state government changes and priorities through the years," said Audrey Wall, the book's managing editor.

Of the three categories, it is higher education administrators or those who oversee all of the state's education efforts that top the list. In 28 of the states surveyed, the officials in those two sectors boasted salaries higher than those of the governor or those of any other official.

Daniel Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, was only half-joking when he said that the survey made him want to go into education governance considering how lucrative the job appeared to be.

One of the states that pays its top education official more than it does its Governor is Michigan. According to Brian Smith of, the state's Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan has a salary of nearly $190,000. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, on the other hand, makes just a notch below $160,000, though he decided to take considerably less on more than one occasion.

Snyder refused to accept the bulk of his salary for his first year in office, taking only $1 in compensation and returning the rest to the state treasury. For 2012, Snyder accepted only 75 percent of his salary, with the remaining $40,000 given to charity, according to the governor's office. A decision about Snyder's 2013 salary has not been made.

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