The penthouse paychecks were lighter last year at Verizon ( VZ), but the big telco's top cat is still lapping it up.

Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of the New York local phone service giant, saw both his cash pay and his total compensation drop around 10% in 2003 from a year earlier. Even so, he managed to pull in $8.6 million in cash pay and $19.1 million in total compensation.

Meanwhile, shareholders lost money. Verizon stock dropped 13% as the company continues to struggle against an eroding core business. The slide stood out in a year when the broad S&P 500 market index surged 26% and the tech-linked Nasdaq index posted its third-best-ever year, jumping 50%.

In relative terms, the executive's pay moved largely in line with the stock. Monday's numbers, posted in Verizon's annual filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, show that Seidenberg's total pay slipped 11% from the year-earlier period. That's in part because the chief has voluntarily frozen his salary at $1.5 million and trimmed some of his incentive pay.

But the sheer size of Seidenberg's check may make some shareholders' eyes pop nonetheless. Last year the CEO scooped up a restricted stock award of $4.2 million, which he will pocket over three years. And that's not to mention some $10.5 million worth of stock options. Seidenberg's four-year contract ends in June.

The latest numbers come on the heels of a rich 2002 paycheck that had some shareholders up in arms. Seidenberg was the second-highest-paid telecom executive in 2002, with $9.5 million in cash compensation. The top pay-getter that year was former Verizon chairman Chuck Lee, who raked in a solid $15.6 million in cash.

Lee retired from his nonexecutive chairmanship in December but still collects $3 million a year as a consultant. And though that contract expires in June, Lee will still be entitled to a business office and administrative assistant for five years at Verizon's expense.

Facing continued revenue erosion and a listless economy, old-line telcos like Verizon have offered Wall Street little by way of growth prospects. It's for that reason that Verizon shares fell sharply last year even as other areas in tech enjoyed strong gains. Helping to offset the declines, Verizon's wireless business has surged in recent quarters as laggards like AT&T Wireless ( AWE) lose customers.

Last year, Verizon's whopping executive pay had critics charging that the company's board was all too cozy . Shareholder advocates such as The Corporate Library counted eight of Verizon's then 12 board members as having some overlapping business or directorship ties with the company.

The company has since made some progress on that front: Verizon is now down to five so-called interlocking directors, or board members who have some potential conflicts. Nonetheless, at the annual meeting, slated for April 28 in Richmond, Va., shareholders will be asked to vote on a proposal requiring Verizon to maintain a more independent board. Another proposal urges Verizon to split the chairman and CEO posts. Currently, Seidenberg holds both titles.

Verizon opposes both proposals. And you can hardly blame Seidenberg for being happy with things just the way they are.