Target 5: State salaries

Sweating it out supervising a T-DOT maintenance crew earned Joyce Vaughn 17-thousand dollars last year.

Vaughn says, "I'm a little tired."

This year she'll earn 492 dollars more.

It seemed fair...considering this year's State of the State address from Governor Phil Bredesen.

Vaughn continues, "We're proposing a total of two percent in raises for our employees."

The Governor's proposal mirrored previous years when across the board pay hikes were minimal at best.

But our investigation found while most state employees had to suck it up, hundreds of select state workers in the Mid-South -- got HUGE raises: 20, 30, 40, 50, even 60 percent raises over the last three years...while the state struggled to overcome a 500-million dollar deficit.

The raises have watchdog groups howling!

Dick Williams with Tennesee Common Case says, "It raises legitimate questions about whether this is the appropriate priority."

Here's part of the priority list for our area:

Two Bolivar pharmacists with the Department of Mental Health went from earning around 53-thousand dollars in 2003 to more than 86-thousand in 2006... A 60 percent increase!

The salary for a Memphis Department pharmacist jumped from 57-thousand to 86-thousand... That's a 50 percent increase.

We also found one of the departments directors and a half dozen nurses working in Memphis and Bolivar got raises between 29 and 36 percent.

We asked Governor Bredesen why?!

Governor Bredesen responds, "Do you feel raises like that are appropriate to a select few while others are struggling along at one, two, three, percent increases?... We have two issues in state salaries. First of all, our salaries all are low."

The second is retention.

Bredesen continues, "We simply aren't competitive anymore, and it hurts us in our ability to perform the services."

In all, our investigation found double-digit raises for select Mid-South state employees cost taxpayers more than 10-million dollars over the last three years.

TN Common Case member Dick Williams continues, ""I would obviously rather see more money go to help those who need healthcare coverage or if necessary roads.">

Roads like the ones Joyce Vaughn works on every day...

Vaughn says, "They sure can't be working no harder than I am."

But when it comes to a state salary's not about how hard you work, it's about how badly the state needs you.