HARRISBURG -- Nearly 5,000 Pennsylvania state employees earned at least $100,000 last year, and more than one-third worked for one of the 14 state-owned universities or the system that oversees them, a newspaper reported Monday.
The number of employees with six-figure earnings has more than quadrupled since 2002, when 1,176 people fell into that category, The Patriot-News said in stories posted on its website (www.pennlive.com).
"What you see is pretty much how recession-proof that (state government) sector may be," said Lonnie Golden, a professor of economics and labor studies at Penn State University's Abington campus.
In the newspaper's analysis of data from the state-government transparency website PennWATCH and the state courts, payouts for severance and unused leave time as well as job-related, non-salary income were counted as part of employees' earnings.
The chancellor of the State System of Higher Education and the presidents of all 14 of its universities were among 1,811 system employees who pulled down six-figure earnings.
Angelo Armenti, the fired president of California University, was the top earner in state government with $367,449, though that consisted mostly of special payments he received when he left the university.
Armenti, who declined to comment Monday, was fired in May and has filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the state system and other officials.
Others high earners in the state system included Chancellor John Cavanaugh with $324,397 and West Chester University swimming coach James Rudisill, whose earnings included his $67,921 salary and $192,847 from swimming camps and lessons, as well as an arbitration award from a 2008 grievance.
James Pesek, former dean of Clarion University's College of Business, earned more than $243,000, including his $107,935 salary and $135,358 for unused leave time upon his retirement.
Karen Ball, the system's vice president for external affairs, defended the salaries as necessary to recruit and retain competent executives and faculty members.
Because the universities are owned by the state and subject to the state Right-to-Know Law, they are subject to higher level of public scrutiny than the scores of other institutions of higher learning, she said.
"There's no comparison for others in our sector, public or private," she said.
A four-year contract that would give the system's 5,500 faculty members annual pay raises of between 3.5 and 7 percent over three years has been approved by the faculty union and awaits ratification by the system's board later this month.
Among the 4,822 state employees who earned at least $100,000 in 2012, Gov. Tom Corbett's $178,033 ranked 190th.
Others prominent members of that group include Chief Justice Ronald Castille, $199,054, state police Commissioner Frank Noonan, $138,267; House Speaker Sam Smith, $128,279 and Senate President Pro Tempore, Joe Scarnati, $126,996.