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The state payroll last year rose 2 percent to $8.2 billion, even though Massachusetts shed thousands of state employees amid the pandemic, according to data from the Office of the Comptroller.

In 2020, the state employed more than 131,000 employees, down from 138,000 from 2019, according to that office.

Part of the payroll increase, the comptroller’s office said, can be explained by COVID-19 pandemic-related hazard pay provided to frontline workers in legislation passed during the public health crisis. Cost-of-living bumps and increases tethered to collective bargaining agreements also increased payroll, according to the office.

But Greg Sullivan, research director for the Pioneer Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank and Boston-based watchdog, attributed most of state payroll rise to collective bargaining agreements.

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“The state government has far more freedom to cut positions than to block or limit collectively-bargained pay raises,” he said in a statement. “To the extent that positions are not under collectively-bargained contracts, state government leaders should be foregoing pay raises in order to share the pain of the pandemic recession with hardest-hit economic sectors.”

As usual, the University of Massachusetts system dominated the list of top earners last year, including two employees who earned more than $1 million in total compensation.

The top earner, Michael F. Collins, the chancellor at UMass Medical School, pulled in $1.1 million in 2020. The only other person on the list to crack $1 million, also from that medical school, was Terence R. Flotte, executive deputy chancellor. He made $1.07 million last year.

The third highest earner was the head coach of the UMass Minutemen basketball team, Matt McCall, who made $850,000 last year. The rest of the top 10 are also men who work either directly in academia or athletic coaches at state schools. Marty Meehan, the president of the UMass system, rounds out the top 10, earning $584,000 last year.

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The highest-paid non-UMass employee in the state last year was chief medical examiner Mindy Hull, whose $395,000 in pay was good for the No. 31 spot on the list.

The highest paid law enforcement officer on the state payroll was Richard Ball, a lieutenant colonel with the State Police. Ball ranked 64th on the list with $327,000. He was among four members of the State Police to make more than $300,000 and 48 to earn more than $250,000. The head of the agency, Colonel Christopher Mason, made $286,000.

The state’s executive, Governor Charlie Baker, made $185,000 last year. But most state employees earned far less. The average total pay last year was just over $62,000, according to the comptroller’s data.

The UMass system had the largest slice of the state payroll pie in 2020, with $1.4 billion. The next highest state entity for payroll was the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, at $584 million; followed by the state’s trial court, at $537 million; the state’s Department of Correction, at $458 million; and the State Police, at just shy of $400 million. The State Police payroll included $296 million in base pay, $56 million in overtime, $6.8 million in buyouts, and $39 million in “other” pay, according to state records.

The data includes most full-time and part-time state employees, as well as state contractors, but excludes people who work at independent quasi-state agencies, which use their own separate payroll systems. The total quasi-government payroll in the state for 2020 was $218 million, down from $256 million the year prior.

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Citing state statistics, Sullivan, the research director for the Pioneer Institute, said the government sector of the state economy lost 30,000 jobs from Nov. 2019 to Nov. 20. By comparison, the state’s leisure and hospitality sector lost 132,000 jobs during the same time frame. The state as a whole lost more than 337,000 jobs.

During that period, state monthly income tax revenue was up by 7.3 percent, monthly corporate taxes were up by 33 percent, and monthly sales taxes were up by 5.9 percent. The customer-facing side of the state economy has been hardest-hit by COVID-19, said Sullivan, with the monthly meals revenue down 29 percent and convention center surcharges down 82 percent.

“The pandemic recession in Massachusetts has had a have and have-not effect,” said Sullivan in a statement.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.