National Report Cites Low State Employee Pay

An absence of a total compensation package for state employees along with serious questions about legislative funding figure in to a recent “C+” grade given to Oklahoma government by a recent national report released by the Pew Center on the States.

“It’s interesting that some of the concepts in this report echo those released by the recent Governor’s Task Force on State Employee Compensation,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley.

According to the report, the low pay scale for state employees is a serious problem.

“Each year, agencies with extra cash on hand do make an effort to boost the salaries of difficult to recruit employees. In 2006, some 7,000 employees received more than $9 million in skill based pay raises and market adjustments,” the report reads. “But that’s in the context of workforce salaries that are still unrealistically low overall.”

Zearley says that, while the report does mention recent attempts at state retention, it does not address the $85 million Oklahoma loses every year, nor does it mention that state employees have only had two salary increases in the past seven years.

“Our state employees work at an average of 12% below their market counterparts,” Zearley said.

State employees in Oklahoma do receive “good” benefits, according to the report

“It’s (benefit package) one of the few areas where we can fully compete with the private sector,” OPM deputy director Hank Batty said in the report. “We have not seen the erosion in benefits that other states have had.”

Zearley adds that, while there is a level of truth in what the report says regarding benefits, there is a bigger picture involved.

“We, as a state, have to create a total compensation plan and package for our employees,” he said. “The Governor’s Task Force, which was comprised of members from both the public and private sector, believes we need to immediately find a pay raise solution.”

Questioned in the report is the logic of using energy windfall revenue to cut taxes instead of improving poorly maintained highways. OPEA says prison issues should also be mentioned.

“If oil prices decline over the next few years, some of the state’s decisions about how to spend the current windfall may leave it with serious problems,” the report said. “Instead of using the money for one time expenditures – such as cutting a $230 million deferred maintenance bill for state highways – officials opted for long term tax cuts. Since reversing the cuts would require an unlikely three-fourths majority in the Legislature, Oklahoma is effectively spending one time money on ongoing bills. That’s contrary to one of the golden rules of money management.”

Zearley said that it is national reports such as this that will hopefully help the legislature make the right decisions for both his members as well as the Oklahoma taxpayers.

“This association has put its money where its mouth is regarding our interest in efficient state government,” he said. “Decent working conditions, workloads and compensation will only help our members better serve their fellow citizens.”

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