AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas paid $122 million in overtime to public employees statewide last year, and while staffers at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission took home more than any other agency, those collecting extra pay also included furniture movers and members of Gov. Rick Perry’s security detail.
The San Antonio Express-News reported on Sunday that of the 56,948 state employees who received overtime, about 40 earned more than their salaries and 1,988 received more than $10,000.
In all, overtime accounted for 6 percent of the 2011 state payroll.
An Express News analysis of state data shows that Texas’ top overtime earner was a Department of Public Safety sergeant and a member of Perry’s security team who racked up $65,136 in overtime in addition to his $64,402 annual salary.
All of the top 10 DPS overtime earners help protect the governor. Combined, they took home about $499,000 in overtime, according to the newspaper.
Security costs for Perry skyrocketed in 2011 amid his unsuccessful run for president. Also, DPS spokesman Tom Vinger told the Express-News that more than $23.6 million of the approximately $27.2 million in overtime last year was specifically authorized by state or federal programs.
The top agency for doling out overtime was the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which the Express-News found paid out $27.8 million—primarily because of a backlog of Medicaid and food stamp applications fueled by the weak economy.
"The vast majority of our OT is paid to employees who work in our eligibility offices where we process applications for Medicaid and food benefits," Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman, told the newspaper.
Goodman said a new computer system has since helped reduce overtime payouts. She told the Express-News that the agency has spent $6.9 million so far this year, about half what it had paid out at this point of 2011.
One reason why overtime bills increased last year is because many state supervisors were unable to get permission to hire new employees, labor law specialist Rex Burch told the newspaper. State Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat who is vice chairman of the Texas House Appropriations Committee, says the state also laid off 8,000 to 10,000 employees during the 2011 legislative session.
At the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, employees collected $15.4 million in overtime pay, but those who got the most were five furniture installers who each nearly matched their salaries, earning more than $26,000 in overtime, according to the Express-News.
The workers are part of a program that uses inmates to build and install office furniture in government buildings and schools. Department installers travel with them and assist with the work.
Many state health department psychiatric nursing assistants also earned close to their annual pay or more in overtime. Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, told the newspaper that almost all of the $7.3 million in overtime the agency paid out in 2011 went to employees working in mental health hospitals.