Guest Column: By Commissioner Jim Brown

How do you put a dollar value on the worth of a public official? That’s the issue being debated in the Baton Rouge State Capitol this week. The new Economic Development Secretary is asking approval for a salary of $320,000 a year. His assistant is requesting a salary as deputy secretary of $235,000 a year. These amounts are significantly above what other economic development directors are making throughout the South. So how do you justify such large increases?

Is such a high salary a “Hail Mary pass” in a desperate effort to try to do some catching up economically in Louisiana? Or is there a sound justification for paying the state quarterback for economic development that kind of money. And how about this idea? Shouldn’t receiving such large salaries be based on results?

LSU football coach Les Miles will pocket some three and a half million dollars this year, making him one of the highest-paid football coaches in the nation. He received such an enormous salary package based on results. It’s the old adage that you get what you pay for, and with Miles, Louisiana ended the football season with a national championship.

Stephen Moret, who is requesting this major salary increase, says he will work seven days a week. But a lot of people work that hard. Should time and work be the only criteria in paying public employees? Why not pay the governor, the secretary of economic development, the superintendent of education, and a cross-section of other public officials that directly affect our lives, based on a scale of how well they perform and what results they achieve?

It seems like someone is always giving the re-assurance that comes from the bogus public versus private sector comparisons. Fortune 500 CEOs make on average $10 million. So some would argue that paying the Governor of Louisiana $125,000 a year to oversee a $30 billion enterprise is a real bargain! But what about results?

Experimentation with performance pay in the public sector is on the grow. A New York City charter school is promising to pay teachers $125,000 a year, plus bonuses based on classroom and schoolwide performance. Sure, this is a lot of money, but those in charge are looking for a significant increase in student performance levels. Bottom line — results.

All this aside, the heart of our query is about pegging the pay of the governor and his top assistants to performance. I would surmise that most voters in Louisiana would think it’s a good idea, but how do you do it? When you talk about results, it is certainly easier to define in the private sector. Results are measured in the stock price of a publicly traded company or by profit in any other company. The more the company makes, the more its managers can earn.

But can you create an accountability and production index in government? I think you can. This would be a challenge for key economists at Louisiana universities. Develop a formula that would give a “performance index.” Sounds difficult, but why not give it a try?

I suggest starting with the “misery index” we’ve heard so much about. This so-called misery index, you may recall, is the sum of the Louisiana unemployment rate added to the state’s inflation rate. Go ahead and pay Gov. Bobby Jindal and his brain trust the big bucks. The governor should make $1 million a year. But this amount would be adjusted by the misery index. Right now, the index is a relatively low 8%, so Jindal’s salary would be close to what he now makes: $125,000. Remember you divide the whole number, not the percentage. So if we look back to 1980 when Dave Treen was governor and the misery index was up to 22%, he would have been making less than $40,000 a year.

Now this should just be the beginning. As Governor Jindal often tells us, future economic growth in Louisiana is tied to job skills through education. Therefore, we should build into the formula increases in high school math performance, elementary student test results, reduction in the state’s troubling pollution levels, and maybe the number of new movies that are shot in Louisiana each year. Leave out the LSU national football ratings, but include the student athlete graduation rates.

Finally, I would factor in consumer confidence. Are the voters getting tangible results? Are they happy with the performance of their top public officials? If you own shares of stock, and have little confidence in your company investment, you simply sell the stock. The average Joe ought to be able to put in his two cents worth as to the value he’s getting out of Louisiana government. Get his opinion through a statewide poll, and factor the results in to the performance Index.

So to Stephen Moret and other top officials working for the Louisiana Governor, I say make your case and ask the salary level you think you are worth. But just like in the private sector, be prepared to defend the bottom line. The proof of course is in the pudding. Be accountable for the results that take place. And if you succeed, reap the benefits

In ancient Rome, there was a tradition when major projects were built. Whenever a Roman engineer constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible. He stood under the arch.

So pay these pied pipers of change and economic growth the big bucks they say they are worth. But keep them directly under the arch of performance, and let voters know there will be a day of reckoning if this promise of change and results plummet to the ground.



Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked;
leadership is defined by results not attributes.”
Peter Drucker


Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown


Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers throughout the State of Louisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at

Jim’s radio show on 995 fm from New Orleans continues with a break during the spring. Look for him to be back on the air in the weeks to come.




4 thoughts

  1. Mr. Brown,

    I recall how many Republicans were calling for the Governor to completely eliminate the LED. I can’t understand why anyone held such a position, but I definitely find it ironic that instead of eliminating the department, Jindal and company appointed the head of the BR Chamber and gave him a substantial raise over Secretary Olivier’s salary.

  2. Mr, Brown thanks for taking the time to share your views with us all.

    I personally have two views on pay for public servants. First i believe that when it comes to paying for professionals — people who are entrusted to get the job done, we can and should pay a competitive salary.

    If we could afford Donald Trump as head of LED and actually get Donald Trump or Warren Buffet results for our state I say let’s go for it. It would be money well spent.

    However, if we’re going to pay the big bucks we should be making sure we are hiring the world’s best and most productive people and not just promoting politically connected colleagues to high paying government jobs. I really know very little about the new head of LED, so I can’t say whether he or his staff is worth the money. I would like to know what other candidates from the global pool of proven development pros were considered before the conveniently local head of the Baton Rouge chamber was chosen for the job.

    At the same time as I believe we can and should pay for talent when needed, I have a pretty radical belief on pay for elected officials:

    I think they should be paid at minimum wage!

    I’m sure that would never fly, but hey if it’s good enough for en elected official’s constituents, shouldn’t he or she be willing to accept that same wage?

    The primary argument against minimum wage increases is often that they are unmerited. Politicians claim that the minimum is enough for a full-time employee to live off of.

    So if it’s good enough for the voters of Louisiana, shouldn’t it be good enough for them?

    Perhaps governor Jindall would like to accept this noble wage. Of course if he worked the typical full-time work load of 40 hours per week (2080 per year), that would give him the mighty yearly pay of $12,168.

    12k…now that might cause a bit of a misery index even with the free car, driver, and free housing, and that’s with the new higher $5.85 per hour.

  3. The only problem, Drew, is that if you only paid politicians minimum wage, you end up with a bunch of politicians who solely earn their living through money on the side.

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