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See Through NY: Tracking top state earners

Emily Burkhard
Updated: March 15, 2020 09:08 AM
Created: March 12, 2020 06:44 PM

ALBANY - What if you were able to take home double or even triple your salary each year? Sounds pretty good, right? Well that's happening right here in New York state, and your tax dollars are being used for it.

NewsChannel 13's investigation began with the 2019 "See Through New York" report. The Empire Center, which puts out the report each year, found the five highest paid state employees all work for SUNY.

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All of them made over $650,000 in 2019. Three of the top five took home about three times their listed pay rates.

"Payrolls are the biggest cost for local governments, it's one of the biggest costs for state government," Ken Girardin, said. "It's important for people be able to see it."

Girardin is a policy analyst for the Empire Center, which describes itself as an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank based in Albany.

Since 2008, he said SUNY professors and state-run hospital employees come in at the top of the list.

"We have a considerable hospital operation where we see some salaries that get north of $500,000," Girardin said.

The highest paid state employee is Dr. Gary Green. He is the chief of cardiac surgery and a clinical associate professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

Dr. Green took home over $753,000 in 2019, though his base salary is listed at just over $260,000. That's a 290 percent bump.

The second highest paid state employee, Dr. Aqeel Sandhu is also a cardiac surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at Upstate Medical. His 2019 salary was listed at $255,000, but he took home over $737,000. That's also a 290 percent increase.

Fourth on the list is Dr. Sreedhar Kallakuri, a vascular surgeon and an associate director of the surgical residency program at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University. His 2019 salary was $193,000, but he ultimately made $678,000, a 350-percent increase.

Lance Leipold, head football coach at SUNY Buffalo, came in at number six overall, and is the highest paid state school coach at $663,500, though his salary was listed at $474,300.

SUNY Buffalo basketball coach Nathaniel Oats was paid $442,105 (#61). SUNY Stony Brook, football coach Charles Priore was paid $465,462 (#46), and athletic director Shawn Heilbron was paid $425,714 (#84).

All of them brought home more than double the governor's recently raised $200,000 annual salary.

"The governor is a CEO of $170 billion operation, it's hard to make the argument that any athletic coach is doing more than he is," Girardin said.

Girardin said there's a reason why some state employees are able to double or triple their base salaries.

"When you get into some of the higher positions at the universities and the hospitals, you end up with these individualized arrangements where people are getting paid not necessarily was fixed in the law but what's been agreed-upon," he said.

Girardin said overtime, backpay, retropay, longevity and vacation buybacks are some of the things state employees can also work into their contracts.

SUNY Press Secretary Holly Liapis released the following statement:

"SUNY is competitive and cost effective when compared with any state system of public higher education. We want, and our students and the communities we serve demand, top faculty, doctors, researchers and others who add to a top rated academic experience, contribute to life saving medical advancement and educate the next generation of physicians."

Salary.com lists the national and statewide averages for many jobs. They claim the median salary for cardiothoracic surgeons in New York is about $503,000 a year. That puts Dr. Green in the 90th percentile and Dr. Sandhu in the 88th percentile.

The median salary for vascular surgeons is a little over $400,000. That would put Dr. Kallakuri in the 155th percentile.

The median salary for a head coach of a major college sport is $75,000.

If you want to learn more about NYS salaries, visit See Through New York.


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