JFAC leaders push for state raises

The two leaders of the Legislature’s budget committee on Wednesday called on lawmakers to consider going against Gov. Butch Otter’s recommendations and grant raises to state employees.

Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee co-chairs Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, testified during the second day of the Change in Employee Compensation Committee meeting.

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Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert

The CEC committee is charged with studying state employee wages and benefits, and may issue a recommendation during its next meeting, set for Friday.

Cameron said he agrees with a state policy that encourages agency directors to offer raises, if they can save salaries by leaving positions unfilled or by not replacing more highly paid employees. But that policy alone may not be enough to sustain the state’s work force.

Idaho law requires that the state “fund a competitive employee compensation and benefit package that will attract qualified applicants to the work force.” During testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, financial and budget analysts testified that 56 percent of state employees make less than $40,000 a year and their wages don’t match what is offered in the private sector.

Bell said she worried about the 48 percent of state employees who were not able to earn raises or bonuses through salary savings in fiscal year 2013.

“Frankly, they kind of wonder if this is a good place to work, and I don’t want them to have to wonder,” Bell said.

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Cameron said CEC committee members have three options.

  • They can take no action and follow Otter’s recommendation.
  • They can introduce a resolution calling for raises. This must clear both the House and the Senate.
  • They could simply appear at JFAC and issue a recommendation for raises.

Budget analysts estimated that it would cost the state $14.6 million to offer a 1 percent raise to all state and public school employees. Without public school employees, the cost is closer to $5.3 million out of the general fund.

Cameron told Idaho Education News on Tuesday he would fight for a raise for teachers if state employees get one.

Otter didn’t set aside funding for the raises, but several million dollars in his budget are uncommitted. His 2014-15 budget – which is built around a 6.4 percent revenue increase – anticipates an ending balance of $49.8 million that lawmakers could, theoretically, tap into for raises.

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Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome

They could put the $30 million Otter set aside for potential tax cuts and instead direct that money to employees wages. Or they could work with some of the $86.6 million estimated surplus and put less of it into state savings accounts. Otter recommends splitting the entire $86.6 million between three savings accounts.

Bell stressed that the CEC committee’s decision should take into account more than just numbers.

“When I think about FTEs and CEC, I think about people,” she said.

Nine people testified during the nearly four-hour meeting Wednesday – and all of them supported an increase for state employees. No teachers or educators spoke during the meeting.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News is based out of Boise State University and its reporters are state employees. 

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