The new head of California's stem cell research agency, which has a staff of 50, not only makes more money than the governor, he makes twice as much as the chief of the National Institutes of Health, which has 17,000 employees. Does that make him overpaid? Not necessarily. But it does make the board that hired him remarkably tin-eared about politics.
Times staff writer Jack Dolan reported Tuesday that Jonathan Thomas, picked as chairman of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine in June, ranks high on the list of the state's highest-paid employees, taking home $400,000 a year. It always annoys voters to discover that government workers make more than they do, but what especially rankles about Thomas' big paycheck is that his hiring comes at a time when most state agencies are making radical cutbacks and when the institute itself is considering a ballot measure to ask voters for billions in new funding. The board of directors chose Thomas over a comparably qualified candidate who planned to spend less time on the job for $123,000.
We're not buying the justification from the institute, which was established in 2004 after voters approved $3 billion in bonds to fund research that could eventually treat such scourges as cancer, lupus and Parkinson's disease. It noted that only $150,000 of Thomas' take-home pay would come from taxpayers, with the bulk coming from charitable contributions. Money donated to a public agency becomes public money, and if it weren't going into Thomas' pocket, it would presumably be paying for research.