Managing the city of Bell, California, is apparently twice as challenging as being President of the United States. The Los Angeles Times reported on July 15, that Bell’s soon-to-be-former Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo earns $787,637 a year.
Bell is not exactly a wealthy metropolis. It is a small, predominantly Hispanic city of 38,000 southeast of Los Angeles. It has a per-capita income of only half the national average—making it the poorest city in Los Angeles County. Yet its city manager makes nearly twice what President Obama does governing the whole country. Rizzo also makes 157 percent more than the Los Angeles County Chief Executive earns managing a city with 100 times more people.
Equally shocking, Bell’s part-time city council members make nearly $100,000 a year. Typically, a city the size of Bell would compensate its council members $400 a month.
Bell’s residents, whose taxes fund these salaries, do not find this amusing. Since this news broke, groups of hundreds of city residents have loudly protested this pay at city council meetings. The citizen pressure has already lead Rizzo to tender his resignation.
Government salaries this lavish are the exception, not the rule. Few city managers make double the President’s salary. But government employees do make more than the private sector workers whose taxes fund their pay.
State and local employees earn an average of $39.81 per hour in wages and benefits while private sector employees earn $27.73. The federal government pays its employees 30–40 percent greater total compensation than they would get in the private sector. Taking a job with the government has increasingly become the way to get ahead. This is neither fair nor sustainable as America struggles through the worst recession in a generation.
Even some liberals recognize this. In the words of former California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, “at some point, someone is going to have to get honest about the fact that 80 percent of the state, county and city budget deficits are due to employee costs.”
Bell’s residents have forced their overpaid city manager out. They may succeed in removing the Mayor and city council that approved paying him so much. However, Rizzo will still get the last laugh. As a retiree, he will soon start collecting $652,252 a year in pension benefits and will immediately become the highest paid retiree in the California Public Retirement System. When he turns 62, his pension will jump to $976,771 a year. When he turns 64, his pension benefits will rise to over $1 million annually. He is part of the reason that California has $500 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. Remember that the next time politicians insist that they have no other choice but to raise your taxes.
Co-authored by Bethany Aronhalt. Aronhalt is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm