LANSING - Both the merely curious and the serious fact-finder may soon be able to find out what most state employees are paid with a click of a computer mouse.
A House committee is expected to vote next week on a bill that will make individual state employee salaries easily and publicly accessible to anyone.
Supporters of the bill say it’s a boon for transparency in state government.
“This is giving citizens an opportunity to identify where their tax dollars are going,” Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Oshtemo Township, who is the sponsor of the bill, said during a hearing Thursday of the House Oversight Committee. “People want more access to what we do here in Lansing.”
But the bill only deals with executive branch workers — not employees who work for the Legislature or the actual members of the House and Senate, who have an annual salary of $71,685, plus benefits and extra pay for leadership positions. Currently, the House voluntarily posts such information on all House employees on its website, but it disappeared for a few months last year under former Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant. The Senate doesn't post employee salary information on its website.
Those employees aren't included in the language of the bill, said Iden, because the House already posts the information and the Senate controls its own rules about what's on its website.
"But that's something that could be looked at," he said.
The information on salaries for any state employee is available to the public now, through the Freedom of Information Act, but the bill would create a searchable database of most state employee salaries that's accessible without having to file a FOIA request.
Such each access is an invasion of privacy, according to some state employees, and will encourage "busybodies" to snoop into the lives of their neighbors.
“People who need to know, like the press or anyone else, if they know the classification and job title of the person, can already look up that salary information,” said Mary Pollack, the government relations representative for the State Employee Retirees’ Association. “This seems to be an attempt to satisfy busybodies who want to know what their next-door neighbors make.
“Public employees expect the same zone of privacy that a private sector employee has,” she added. “It’s excessive, and it’s another type of anti-state government, anti-state employee initiative that’s really unnecessary when the information is already out there.”
The bill was amended during the hearing to add a provision that would allow certain employees to be exempt from the public disclosure.
“If you’re an active member of law enforcement and you feel your life would be endangered by posting this information, we certainly wouldn’t want to put it out,” Iden said.
The committee is expected to vote on the bill — HB 4301 — next week, said chairman Rep. Joseph Graves, R-Linden.
Contact Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4430, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @michpoligal
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