Six month pay raise and flat agency budgets
As part of his State of the State address to open legislative session on February 4, Governor Henry proposed a five percent pay raise for state employees. The line, at the close of the speech, received a standing ovation from legislators.
“The response was one of the best throughout the speech,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “We are pleased that the governor included a pay raise as one of his budget initiatives. Also, legislators clearly believe state employees should be a priority this year.”
At the beginning of session, the governor is required to submit a budget to state leaders. While the pay raise is a step in the right direction, it is important to examine the details.
According to the budget, the pay raise does not take effect until January 1, 2009, with a half-year cost of $32.7 million.
“State employees cannot wait 11 months for a pay raise,” continued Zearley. “Our paychecks are already 12 percent below market. Delaying the pay raise will only increase the gap between state employee pay and market, making it harder to catch up.”
In addition, the budget proposes a cut in the benefit allowance that would take between $40 and $80 a month from state employees. (see related article)
“Moving money from one pocket to another is not a pay raise,” said Zearley. “State employees must have a significant increase in their take-home pay to help them cover increasing costs to support their families.”
Agency Budgets Flat
The budget fully funds a teacher pay raise of $1,200 to bring them to the regional average. The total cost of the raise is $65 million.
In addition to the teacher pay raise, the budget proposes an additional $10 million be sent to school districts to help them pay for additional operating costs and $17.5 million to help with teacher retirement contribution increases. The budget also includes $13 million for higher education operating costs. No funding is provided to pay for the retirement contribution increase required of state agencies.
“Once again, state agencies are not provided with funding to pay for additional costs of food, fuel and medical supplies,” continued Zearley. “State agencies have been forced to cut staff to absorb these costs.”
The exceptions are $1 million to the Health Department and $250,000 to the
Department of Veterans Affairs for operations. OPEA recently learned the Health Department has put a freeze on hiring to help make up a funding shortfall for this fiscal year.
The governor’s budget does provide an additional $30 million to the Department of Corrections to annualize the proposed 2008 supplemental and end the cycle of underfunding the agency.
The budget provides no additional staff to agencies for program growth.
“We know DHS workers are doing all they can to keep up,” said Zearley. “The workload has continued to grow each year with no additional funding for staff.”
Seventeen nurses are added to the J.D. McCarty Center so that the facility can continue to be certified to receive Medicaid funds.
The Office of Juvenile Affairs budget has an additional $1.7 million to improve salaries for employee recruitment and retention.