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Earth Notes

GOP calls for state employee pay hike

Northern Arizona University

By Howard Fischer

Phoenix – House Speaker Jim Weiers said lawmakers have not always paid attention to state workers. He said when times were bad they got little or nothing. And when times were good, they were ignored. But new financial
estimates show Arizona will have $850 million more in revenues than expenses -- including $350 million in what lawmakers believe are tax dollars that will keep on coming year after year. Senate President Ken Bennett said that appears to be enough to convince legislators to put substantial dollars into salaries.

(We've heard from our caucus members, both in the Senate and the House, that doing something in the area of employee pay raise is important, and is going to be included as one of our top priorities.)

Bennett said this hike will be at least 4 1/2 percent. That benchmark was set by the highest single year pay increase anyone could recall. Legislative staffers suggested a 5 percent hike, with a $100 million price tag, is probably a goal. That figure is below a 7 1/2 percent pay hike recommended two months ago by a special legislative panel -- and far below the 9 1/2 percent sought by the American Federation of State, County and Muncipal Employees. Angel Rodriguez, director of the AFSCME local council, said that figure is not as outrageous as it sounds. He pointed out that workers will have an additional 1.7 percent taken out of their paychecks beginning July 1 for pension costs. So a 5 percent hike on paper really means 3.3 percent more in take-home pay. State workers faced the same problem last year with an identical pension premium increase. But all they got was a 1.7 percent pay hike, leaving them with a net increase of zero. Still to be decided is how the money will be allocated. Bennett said there is some sentiment against an across-the-board percentage hike, as that gives the fattest raises to those already making the most. One alternative is a flat dollar amount, perhaps $1,500 per employee. But some legislators are pushing to have most of the cash put into performance pay, where employees of state agencies -- or even divisions within the agency -- get pay hikes based on increased production. Rodriguez does not like that idea.

(What happens with incentive pay is -- some people call it merit, whatever you call it -- just a few, favored few people get the chunk of it. And everybody else ends up with not enough to make a difference.)

The Board of Regents also is opposed to a requirement to provide across-the-board pay hikes, whether by dollar amounts or percentage. Instead, the body that runs the university system wants unencumbered cash to be able to alter salaries of current and prospective employees to make pay here more competitive with other universities who are recruiting the same top professors. In Phoenix, for Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.