As Washington buzzes with talk of curbing excessive executive compensation, a new survey has revealed that top U.S executives saw their salaries and bonuses rise by nearly a third in the past year.
The figures from the Economic Research Institute and Wall Street Journal's executive careers website CareerJournal.com come against a backdrop of hardening attitudes towards the lavish pay and perks of chief and senior executives.
President Bush recently criticised the excessive salaries and bonuses of some corporate executives and urged corporate boards to "step up to their responsibilities" in tying compensation packages to performance.
Congress is also working on legislation to require shareholder approval of executive compensation plans, and new rules from the Securities and Exchange Commission now require organisations to include a summary of top executives' compensation in their public filings.
The ERI and CareerJournal poll found that, while the average company increased executive base pay by a relatively modest 1.69 per cent over the past 12 months, the bonuses rose by 42.1 per cent.
This resulted in an overall increase in average total executive cash compensation of 28.7 per cent between February this year and last.
For the highest paid executives, the average base salary stood at $1,304,664, compared with February 2006, where it was $1,283,002.
But the average annual cash bonus was $3,668,324 compared with $2,580,139 in 2006.
The average total cash compensation (in other words base plus bonus) was $4,972,988 compared to February 2006's $3,863,141.
"Income inequality is real and continues to widen. More and more companies are creating executive compensation packages that are related to performance," said Dr David Thomsen, ERI director.
However, the survey did also point up a changing trend in executive compensation in relation to corporate revenues.
Prior to 2002, compensation was rising at a faster rate than revenues, but in more recent years, executive compensation had begun to rise more slowly than corporate revenues, it found.
The February 2007 Index showed a continuation of this trend, it added.
It also clearly illustrated a trend toward keeping base salaries relatively steady and providing additional compensation in the form of bonus payments, said the ERI.