Monday, December 01, 2008

A Salary for Klein? Half-Million Likely

California stem cell chairman Robert Klein, who has worked without state pay since late 2004, is now seeking a salary that could run as much as half-a-million dollars annually, making him one of the state's highest paid employees.

The request will come up at next week's meeting in Irvine of the CIRM board of directors. The agenda only states that the item involves "consideration of compensation of chair of the ICOC(the CIRM board)." No details were offered online. But Don Gibbons, the agency's chief communications officer, confirmed today that it was a salary request but declined to offer a justification for the move.

According to the CIRM salary ranges, Klein (see photo) is eligible for compensation as high as $508,750. Klein is a multimillionaire real estate investment banker and operates a Palo Alto. Ca., firm bearing his name. He forswore pay in December 2004 when he was elected chairman by the CIRM board.

If Klein receives the full amount in the CIRM range, he would become the second highest paid state employee outside of the University of California, according to salary information compiled by The Sacramento Bee. He would displace CIRM President Alan Trounson in that slot. Trounson earns $490,008. In addition to Trounson and Klein, Marie Csete, chief scientific officer for CIRM, is in the top ten earners with a salary of $310,008 and ranks No. 8.

CIRM's Gibbons has not responded to a query about whether Klein is seeking the full $508,750.

CIRM executive pay popped up in the news last spring, when CIRM directors approved a 23 percent hike in the management salary ranges, easily surpassing pay levels at the much larger NIH. At least one CIRM director initially balked but the boost was ultimately approved with little debate.

Twenty-three percent government pay increases generate an image and PR problem at any time. But given the Golden State's current $28 billion budget shortfall and cutbacks in education and aid to the poor and elderly, the timing can appear especially inappropriate. And Klein's salary request, deserved or not, is also likely to create such problems.

However, a bit of a precedent for the salary request popped up today in a story by Jim Sanders in The Sacramento Bee. He reported that 214 legislative staffers received pay hikes this year, despite the state's economic woes. One-third of the raises went to employees earning less than $40,000 yearly but 16 went to staffers making more than $100,000.

The article generated intense reader comment that reflected a certain hostility towards government pay boosts. One reader, identified only as Coaki, said, "These people are incredibly insensitive and stupid. Pay raises with a $27 billion deficit?"

At CIRM, the way for Klein's salary request was cleared when Ed Penhoet resigned as vice chairman. He is also a multimillionaire and co-founder of Chiron. Penhoet, who is continuing to sit on the board, was eligible for a salary, which he did not accept. Penhoet's resignation cited time constraints and did not mention the salary issue. But a vice chairman working for free while the chairman takes a handsome salary would create an awkward situation. No successor to Penhoet has been nominated.

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