Friday, November 30, 2007


Back in 2002, the Harrisburg Patriot-News came up with an ingenious means to find out Joe Paterno's salary which wasn't directly covered by the Pennsylvania Right-To-Know law, because the law does not cover Penn State. Joe, you see, participates in the Sate Employees Retirement System (SERS) which is covered by the state's Right-To-Know law. The Patriot-New requested the information from SERS. Of course, Old Main fought back. Finally five years latter, the state supreme court sided with the Patriot-News and yesterday Paterno's base salary was made public.

Was this a victory for open government? Not really. The figure released yesterday, $512,000, was only Paterno's base salary. One is left to speculate about bonuses, contracts with companies such as Nike, and other forms of compensation. If one wants to make sense of Paterno's salary one must compare it to the salary of his peers, but such a comparison is nearly impossible since the salaries reported for his peers are their complete compensation. The best comparison I've seen was to Arizona coach Dennis Erickson where the comparison was to both his base salary and total compensation.
Coaches are typically eligible for bonuses based on their records and appearances in post-season bowl games, as well as for the classroom performance of their players. Dennis Erickson of the University of Arizona can make as much as $1.2 million in bonuses, almost twice his $625,000 salary.
This suggests that it is possible that Paterno's base salary is as little as half of his total compensation by the University, but we really don't know. The fact that such speculation is still necessary after this information was made public, points to the inadequacy of our Right-To-Know law.

The citizens of Pennsylvania deserve unambiguous answers to such questions as, how much does Joe Paterno make? On that front, the real action is in the General Assembly where both the House and the Senate have passed revisions to the Pennsylvania Right-To-Know law which strengthens and extends it coverage to state-related universities, such as Penn State. The battle over Paterno's salary was just a sideshow.

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