“Just so you know, anyone can look up your salary on the Sacramento Bee’swebsite.”
These were among the first words that the HR representative at my first job out of college said to me. As a new employee of the University of California San Francisco, I had become a state worker. And now, anyone could access my salary using the Sacramento Bee’s website, which had gained access to all state salaries with an open records request.
What I had been told was true — for the most part.
If you searched my name on the Sac Bee’s salary website you would find my full name, spelled correctly. You’d also find my internal title. The one hiccup was that my posted salary was off by more than $17,000 (possibly because my wages were subsidized by a federal grant that funded the project on which I worked).
But the spirit of the information held true: As recipients of California taxpayers’ money, our salaries were a public record and subject to public scrutiny. (Of course, I was a taxpayer, too.)
My colleagues and I were accustomed to the idea of such information being in the public domain. And for a time I was living with my aunt and uncle, both of whom were also paid by the state, so the transparency — common in most states — seemed commonplace.
Like any state bureaucracy, there were parts of the state system that could be criticized — about once a month, various folks brought out neon signs and staged protests outside the main doors, students rioted about the tuition hike, and many of us wrote letters to the board of regents about the furloughs and pay cuts. But I felt it was healthy knowing that there was just one more check-and-balance in the large system.
As one of more than 211,000 state employees, I was not ashamed of how much I made or didn’t make. For the most part, being able to look at the salaries made me feel they were fair and equitable, even if cold and mechanical at times. And as a taxpayer, I felt good having a sense of where my monthly deductions went.
At Civil Beat, we hope that sharing some of what we learned about our state employees’ salaries will give us all an understanding of how our state works. After all, when we deduct state taxes from our paychecks, the majority of it goes to state employee wages. About 60 percent of the state’s annual operating budget goes to wages.
We also hope that sharing this information will help to make us all better citizens of Hawaii. By knowing where our money goes — and doesn’t go — we all can gain a clearer understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of our Aloha State — even if there’s a number out of place here or there.
Read our main story about state salaries and explore our searchable database available to full members, learn who makes the most money and which positions pay the least.
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