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Dr. Anthony Fauci (AP) Dr. Anthony Fauci (AP)

Dr. Anthony Fauci (AP)

John Pullano
By John Pullano February 5, 2021

Is Erie County’s health commissioner paid roughly the same as Anthony Fauci?

If Your Time is short

  • Dr. Gale Burstein’s compensation, when factoring in fringe benefits, reached $532,418 in 2020 due to a special overtime rule enacted during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Burstein’s combination of salary, benefits, and overtime in 2020 exceeded the easily classifiable compensation for Pence, Fauci and Gov. Cuomo.

  • However, Cuomo and Pence receive housing, transportation, and security benefits that are large but hard to quantify, and if these benefits are added into the calculation, they likely exceed what Burstein received.

How well-paid is Dr. Gale Burstein, the health commissioner of Erie County, N.Y.? According to Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, Burstein rivals Dr. Anthony Fauci, the long-tenured federal official who is playing a key role combating the coronavirus.

In 2020, Burstein’s compensation, when factoring in fringe benefits, reached $532,418, based on a new report produced by Mychajliw’s office.

"I think a lot of people are going to be very angry that the health commissioner makes more than the governor, the vice president of the United States, and has a salary that is comparable to Dr. Anthony Fauci," Mychajliw said, according to the Buffalo News.

Could a county-wide official really be out-earning such lofty officials? We took a closer look.

Calculating Burstein’s income

Government administrators generally do not receive overtime pay. In a normal, pandemic-free year, Burstein would have made $202,312 in base salary, and a total of $304,985 when benefits are included.

However, starting in 2020, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz allowed all non-union, managerial, confidential employees to accept overtime pay for their work related to the coronavirus, the Buffalo News reported.

The report found that during 2020, Burstein collected $183,414 for 1,266 hours of overtime work and $44,019 in fringe benefits on this overtime, not including health insurance. This made her the largest single recipient of taxpayer-funded overtime in Erie County, which includes Buffalo.

In a statement, Erie County executive Mark C. Poloncarz verified Burstein’s earnings and added that Burstein is "performing two full-time jobs."

Mychajliw said that including Burstein’s overtime pay, her 2020 salary places her among the highest paid officials not just in the state but the federal government as well.

How does her salary compare?

Jessica O’Neil, Mychajliw’s associate deputy comptroller and chief of staff, directed PolitiFact reporters to the Erie County budget and several articles showing the salary of top government officials.

For the governor of New York, O’Neil cited an article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's annual salary is set to rise to $250,000 in 2021. However, Cuomo chose to defer his scheduled $25,000 pay raise and asked other statewide officials to do the same, citing economic hardships.

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Cuomo had been set to see his annual salary increase from $225,000 to $250,000 on Jan. 1 as part of a three-year pay schedule approved by state lawmakers in 2019. This deferral will ultimately mean Cuomo will make the same salary —  $225,000 — in 2021 as he did in 2020.

Former Vice President Mike Pence earned $230,700 in 2019, and that was set to increase to $235,100 in 2020 as a result of the expiration of a pay freeze.

Finally, Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to the president, made $417,608 in wages 2019, which is the latest year in which federal salaries were available via the Freedom of Information Act.

So Burstein’s total salary plus overtime in 2020 was $385,726, which easily beats the number for Cuomo and Pence. Once benefits are added in, her total compensation package of $532,418 beats Fauci as well.

The caveat is that Pence and Cuomo, and possibly Fauci, receive perks that are difficult to value, and which may leave Burstein’s compensation in the dust.

The vice president lived rent-free in a 9,150-square-foot Victorian mansion at Number One Observatory Circle, plus access to Air Force Two, a large security detail, and free food prepared by the executive chef and executive pastry chef at the White House, among several other benefits.

Meanwhile, Cuomo gets the benefit of living arrangements at the New York State Executive Mansion and transportation via taxpayer funded planes and helicopters.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Burstein’s income will decrease when and if the special pandemic compensation rules are rolled back.

Our ruling

Mychajliw said, "I think a lot of people are going to be very angry that the health commissioner makes more than the governor, the vice president of the United States, and has a salary that is comparable to Dr. Anthony Fauci."

Burstein is benefitting from a rule that allows her to collect overtime, and she’s working more hours because of the pandemic. So Burstein’s salary and overtime alone exceeded the easily classifiable compensation for Cuomo and Pence, and when benefits are added in, she beats Fauci as well.

However, Cuomo and Pence receive housing, transportation, and security benefits that are large but hard to quantify, and if these benefits are added into the calculation, they likely exceed what Burstein received.

We rate the statement Mostly True.

Our Sources

Buffalo News, County political appointees got over $1.3 million in pandemic overtime, January 29, 2021

Erie County Comptroller, Audit Update on OT Payment, January 29, 2021

Erie County, County Budget, 2021

Democrat and Chronicle, Here's how much Andrew Cuomo gets paid as New York governor, April 1, 2019

Forbes, Dr. Anthony Fauci: The Highest Paid Employee In The Entire U.S. Federal Government, January 25, 2021

Democrat and Chronicle, Andrew Cuomo says he will defer pay raise, ask others to do the same, Nov. 18, 2020

Business Insider, Vice President Salary and Perks, January 20, 2021

New York Times, Cuomo Often Takes Taxpayer-Funded Planes and Helicopters, September 7, 2018

New York State, The Governor's Mansion, February, 4, 2021

Email Interview with Jessice O’Neil, Stefan Mychajliw’s associate deputy comptroller and chief of staff, February 2, 2021

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