In response to a CalWatchDog.com investigation series, two Democratic state legislators are calling on the California State University system “to come clean with a complete and detailed look at just how CSU executives are paid.” In a letter sent Tuesday afternoon to Cal State Chancellor Charles Reed, Assemblymember Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, and Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, urged CSU to end its repeated attempts to mislead the public about the total compensation of its top executives.
“Despite repeated attempts to ferret out the truth, recent news reports suggest that CSU officials continue to conceal details about excessive compensation for campus presidents – including tens of thousands of dollars in perks such as housing, car allowances, and retirement and health benefits,” the legislators wrote. “According to CalWatchDog.com, the president of Cal State Los Angeles makes over $515,000 in total compensation per year; that’s about $200,000 more than what’s listed on CSU’s website.”
Earlier this month, a CalWatchdog investigation revealed that Cal State officials have provided false and misleading information to the public about the total compensation provided to at least one of the system’s 23 presidents. According to IRS Form 990 documents of the Cal State University Los Angeles Foundation, CSULA President James Rosser reported receiving $515,612 in total compensation for fiscal year 2009-10, which ended on June 30, 2010. The half-million dollar figure is roughly $200,000 more than CSU’s previously cited base salary of $325,000 per year. In at least five instances, Cal State officials have claimed or implied the lower compensation amount for Rosser.
‘Open and Transparent’?
Following last year’s public outcry over the $400,000 base salary for San Diego State President Elliot Hirschman, Cal State established a special Web page for public information on its executive compensation policies. “As a public institution, the California State University is committed to being as open and transparent to the public as possible,” the Web site reads. “In response to recent discussions about the California State University’s executive compensation policies and practices, we have created this central page to make the documents related to those policies more readily accessible.”
The website makes no reference to any CSU president receiving more than half-a-million dollars per year in taxpayer-funded benefits. The webpage contains an executive compensation summary, titled “2011/2012 CSU Executive Compensation Summary.” This summarizing document lists Rosser’s total compensation as $325,000 per year, plus a $60,000 housing allowance. It excludes any reference to a car allowance or other non-taxable perks, such as retirement, FICA or health benefits.
“There is no justification for these bloated salaries and even less justification for hiding the truth from the taxpaying public,” wrote Portantino and Yee. “The need for transparency has never been greater, and thus why we call on you and your administration to use Sunshine Week to come clean with a complete and detailed look at just how CSU executives are paid.”
CalWatchDog.com has been repeatedly rebuffed in our requests for the total compensation packages of all 23 college presidents. “The information is publicly available and included on 990 forms for each president and the chancellor that are posted on each campus website, as well as on the chancellor office website,” said Claudia Keith, Cal State’s assistant vice chancellor of public affairs.
However, the IRS documents provided on the Cal State Foundation’s website are nearly three years old. The most recent IRS Form 990, which is available on the CSU Foundation’s webpage, is for July 1, 2008-June 30, 2009.
In addition to their letter, Portantino and Yee have proposed legislation to limit the excessive compensation of high-ranking government employees. Portantino’s AB 1787 would freeze compensation for public employees making more than $100,000 a year. Yee’s SB 967 would prohibit raises for top executives during bad budget years or within two years of a student fee hike.
Both legislators have a long history of championing government openness and transparency. Last year, Portantino led the effort to force the state Assembly to disclose its total operating budget. On January 1, new legislation authored by Yee took effect that expanded the state’s Public Records Act to include the University of California, Cal State and the community college auxiliaries and foundations. SB 8 provides the public with greater tools to investigate the financial statements and contracts of public colleges and universities.