OPEA had the opportunity to sit down Thursday and discuss HB 3108 with Rep. Ron Peterson. The legislation, as it is written, would lower the benefit allowance for state employees.
“Rep. Peterson made it a priority to meet with OPEA before he went back to his district,” said OPEA Deputy Director Scott Barger. “He mentioned that he had received many phone calls and emails from concerned state employees.”
Attending the meeting were Barger, OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley, and Research and Policy Director Trish Frazier. OPEA prepared spreadsheets with the impact of HB 3108 as it is currently drafted and possible changes that could be made.
Currently, almost all state employees purchase benefits that allow them to keep some of their benefit allowance as income. With paychecks so far below the market, the additional benefit allowance helps state employees make ends meet.
“It is, also, important to remember that the current benefit allowance is based on high option premiums,” said Frazier. “EBC is putting out a new RFP this year on the HMOs. If their premiums go down, state employees could lose money.”
Another important factor to remember about state employee insurance is that the increases have not been funded since FY 2002. This has caused state agencies to absorb over $170 million in increased costs.
“Legislators cannot force this cost on to the agencies any longer,” said Zearley. “The unfunded benefit allowance cost is one reason that vacancies are increasing across state government, causing a staffing crisis.”
Rep. Peterson told OPEA that he would be willing to look at different options on the benefit allowance and he did not want state employees to lose money.
“I am just looking at ways to maintain this program for state employees,” said Peterson. “Under the current formula the entire program is in jeopardy.”
“If the bill passes committee next week, the title will be off, and it will have significant changes as it goes through the process,” Barger said.
“OPEA is committed to ensuring that if there is any money lost from the benefit allowance, it will be returned to state employees as pay,” said Zearley. “In addition, we have been working with both parties in both the House and Senate on a pay raise for state employees.”
“We appreciate Rep. Peterson taking time to talk to us about this important issue and look forward to working with him as the session continues to find a solution to state employee compensation,” concluded Zearley.
OPEA members should continue to watch this as this situation continues to develop.
“This is a great example of why state employees need to be unified,” said Zearley. “As money become tighter and tighter, all the organization like the teachers, corporations, local and county government to name a few, will all be ready to rob Peter. Ask your co-worker if it is worth the price of membership to help state employees protect the benefit allowance and fight for a decent pay raise?”