With that statement, some 70 state employees representing such diverse agencies as DHS, OJA, Mental Health, DOT and others attended a town hall-type legislative meeting in Enid, with three Republican legislators reporting on Capitol business as well as giving their own thoughts regarding state employee issues.
“There was no stone left unturned in this meeting,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “These legislators got the ears full of the problems our members are facing every day on the worksites, as well as their need for a legitimate pay raise.”
First up in the meeting, which was held in the campus of Northwestern State University, was Senator David Myers (R-Ponca City) whose district carries over into the Enid area.
“I am co-vice chair of the Appropriations committee,” he said. “So I see all of the financial situations and take part in negotiations.”
It’s ironic; Myers said, that part of the state’s budget problem can be traced to the fact that Oklahoma’s economy is strong and booming.
“Because our income has increased, we are not getting the Federal funds that we would normally receive,” he said. “We as the state legislature have to make these up to the tune of almost $70 million.”
Myers did mention that a state employee pay raise was on the table and that it was gathering bi partisan support.
“With the commitment we made to teachers, it is going to be difficult to give both them and state employees a raise this year,” he said.
After taking questions regarding short staffing and overtime issues, Myers gave the floor to Senator Patrick Anderson (R-Enid) who also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“First off, I have been asked all week to add my name as a co-author to the Senate state employee pay raise bill,” he said. “My problem with this lies in the fact that the legislature has traditionally given pay raises without giving the extra funds to the agencies.”
Anderson said that he had contacted the agencies that fall under his committee assignments to ask exactly what the cost of a $2,700 pay raise would be, including taxes and benefits.
A member of the audience asked why teacher pay raises still had to be appropriated since the passage of the lottery.
“The lottery has consistently underperformed every year,” he said. “We were promised it would bring in $300 million and so far it’s not even bringing in $100 million.”
Anderson also said that only 34 cents on the dollar from lottery proceeds goes to education.
“Fifty percent of all lottery proceeds go to prizes and promotions,” he said.
Anderson also took questions from members who are not able to take the comp days they’ve earned because of short staffing.
One OPEA member said to Anderson.
“I try to keep up with my comp days, but they usually get burned, she said. “So when I work weekends and after hours, I essentially work for free!”
Rep. Mike Jackson, who sponsored OPEA’s legislative loan bill last session, was then warmly greeted by the crowd.
“I’ll begin by saying that OPEA is one of the greatest organizations in the state,” he said. “They are at the Capitol every day fighting for state employees.”
Jackson also addressed pay raises and retiree COLAs.
“It is ridiculous that you have to come to the legislature year after year asking for more money,” he said.
Jackson then took questions from the crowd, with topics ranging from OPEA lobby day (March 11) and bills that have caught the attention of OPEA.
“I will support any pay raise initiative in my caucus and on the floor, he said.”
Zearley said that the meeting was another success for the organization.
“State employees have momentum now,” he said. “When these legislators go back to their colleagues and tell them the frustration out in the agencies, they will certainly start to pay attention.”