An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Washington’s highest paid state workers are coaches, not politicians

 A photograph of WSU head football coach Jake Dickert during a 2022 game.
WSU Athletics
WSU head football coach Jake Dickert, seen during a game in 2022.

The highest-paid state employees in Washington don’t write the laws or run any government operations.

They coach college football and basketball, oversee Washington’s two largest public universities and make money investing taxpayer dollars, according to the 2022 state employee salary database.

Kalen DeBoer, who guided the University of Washington Huskies football team to an 11-2 record in his inaugural season last year, is at the top with a $3,322,400 salary. UW Men’s Basketball Coach Michael Hopkins, whose club went a disappointing 16-16 last season, earned $3,010,000.

Jake Dickert, head coach of Washington State University’s football team, is next at $2,728,900. Dickert, who took over midway through the 2021 season, compiled a 7-6 record last year. Kyle Smith, the Cougar men’s basketball coach, is fourth highest paid at $1,576,500, per the database.

Overall, seven of the top 10 earners last year had a tie with the intercollegiate athletic programs at the two schools.

Before getting too worked up, know this: no general fund dollars were used to pay them or salaries of any athletic department employees at UW and WSU. Each university is responsible for generating revenue – think ticket sales, television contracts and boosters – to operate programs and maintain facilities, according to the Office of Financial Management.

The database contains 2022 calendar year earnings for thousands of employees working in state agencies, community colleges and universities. It includes base pay and any additional compensation or premiums such as overtime, call-back, standby or assignment pay. It shows annual earnings for most employees who worked for the state at any time in the last five years.

Perusing the chart, the first 30 names are linked to one or the other universities.

Not all are involved in sports. For example, Keith Ferguson, UW’s chief investment officer, earned $954,800 last year, good enough for sixth on the list.

Not all are still on the payroll. Lindsay Meggs, who retired as baseball coach in 2022 following 13 seasons at the helm, earned $907,500, per the records.

A UW newcomer, Princess Imoukhuede, earned $904,700 to make her the highest-salaried public university academic. She joined the university Jan. 1, 2022, as the Hunter and Dorothy Simpson Endowed Chair and Professor in Bioengineering.

That salary put her ahead of UW President Ana Mari Cauce at $882,100, and WSU President Kirk Schulz, at $796,000.

Allyson Tucker, chief executive officer of the Washington State Investment Board, is the first person on the list not associated with one of the four-year schools. Her $612,100 salary placed her as the state’s 31st highest paid.

Dr. Umair Shah, secretary of the state Department of Health is the best paid agency head at $314,000, although his chief science officer, Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, earned $800 more than he did last year.

Officials elected into statewide office are a ways down. Many are not the highest paid in the agency they oversee.

Their wages are adjusted every two years by the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. The panel can consider inflation, job duties and pay of equivalent elected posts in other states when setting salaries. It cannot pencil in labor market features such as hiring incentives or retention bonuses.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who is in his final term, made $187,400 last year while his chief of staff, Jamila Thomas, earned $221,400.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson earned $173,800 in 2022. Five people in his office got paid more including top aide Michael Webb at $176,900.

Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz made $153,000. Eight people in her operation had higher salaries topped by her chief of staff, Carlo Caldirola-Davis at $196,100.

The database, updated annually, is provided as a public service and not required by law.