- Fiscal Policy
Public Employee Payroll – Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why are you doing this?
Employee salaries, wages and benefits is one of the largest short term and long term costs to the Alaska taxpayer. Whether you think taxes are too high or too low, monitoring payroll costs is a mark of fiscal responsibility. You may disagree with FDR’s concerns about public employee unions, but it is difficult to disgree with the proposition that taxpayers need to know.
Q: How much should these employees be paid?
The Alaska Policy Forum is making this database available merely to allow the funders of government services (taxpayers) to decide whether the services they are getting are worth the costs that are being incurred.
We want the user of the database to ask, “Is the taxpayer getting a good value?” The term “value” used here is defined as the service taxpayers want/need at a price that they are willing to pay. The Alaska Policy Forum may, in the future, analyze whether a service is costing too much; but the purpose of this database is so that if and when that debate takes place, all sides are starting with the same facts.
Q: Why aren’t you displaying the salaries of businesses contracting with government?
Certainly, all contracts that private entities have with taxpayer funded entities should be open for the public to see. But, in a contract scenario, the government is paying for a service set by a contract with (presumably) a measureable definition of success. When the “job” is finished, it’s over. There are no more costs, unless the delivered service was something that requires maintenance and overhead (e.g., a building). In short, The employees of the contracted business are not public employees and as such their employer can withhold salary data.
In contrast, when a permanent government employee is finished working on a project, the employee must continue on the payroll. This is not to say that contracting out is always better than hiring permanent employees. But, in order to argue that a service should or should not be contracted out, both sides have to answer the question, “How much are we currently spending to provide a service?” That’s a question this database can help answer.
Q: Why do you provide actual names in the database? Isn’t that a bit invasive?
One of the problems with providing numbers without names is that taxpayers often forget that there are real people doing these jobs. They are not faceless numbers. That’s important to remember, even if you are arguing for cutting a service that will end someone’s job. It may not change the fact that some trimming back of government services is needed, but it still needs to be considered.
On the other hand, when you work as a permanent employee for an entity that is funded by taxpayers, it is reasonable for taxpayers to expect to know who has been employed to carry out the services they are paying for and how much they are being paid for their services.
Q: How, from where and how often do you get updated information?
The data are acquired from the government entities themselves. We aim to keep the existing information relevant by updating it at least once a year.
Q: My salary information is incorrect. Why?
All payroll data in this database is public record. The information is presented exactly as provided by official government agencies for the period in question. It will not reflect a change in salary subsequent to that period; for example, an employee salary included in a database for 2009 will not reflect a raise effective in 2010.
If you believe we have been given inaccurate data, please contact us and we will work to correct the mistake with the appropriate entity.
Q: Why are some employees listed twice?
You may find that some employees are listed twice. We requested payroll information as of the last pay period in 2010, so that users could get a good picture of what was paid out for the year to a given employee.
If an employee’s status changed during the year (e.g. the employee started in a different position or joined a different bargaining unit), some government entities may add them as a new line in their employee list. They aren’t being paid for two positions. It’s simply a new entry on the list. If you find duplicate names, that means there was a status change, and each entry reflects what the employee was paid for the time in that status.
Q: Why are some full-time employee salaries so low?
Some salaries are low even though they are full time, because they were hired after the start of 2010, and sometimes late in 2010. This database is a record of what was paid out for that position as of the last pay period in 2010.
Although it is not a salary figure, at this point it is what was provided to us during our search. If you think it should be more straightforward than that, consider giving a donation to the Alaska Policy Forum. We are the only Alaskan organization that is dedicated to making government information more transparent, accessible, and intuitive. Your donation goes farther with us. Really, it does. It’s also tax-deductible and confidential.
No matter what you think about this database, whether you hate it or love it, please contact us to let us know what you think.