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Eye On Boise

Crowd turns out to tell lawmakers about state employee pay issues

There are about 65 people in room EW 41 of the state Capitol this afternoon for a “listening session” on state employee compensation; six Democratic lawmakers are assembled to hear the testimony. In the audience, House Commerce Chairman Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, and Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, also are listening in.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who is chairing the session along with Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, said this is the fifth straight year that Idaho lawmakers haven’t held a “CEC” hearing, which stands for “Change in Employee Compensation,” and is the mechanism through which the Legislature previously heard annually from state workers about pay and compensation issues before making decisions on whether to grant raises. “Now we’re working on the 2014 budget and the governor has recommended a zero percent change again,” Ringo said. “I think it’s high time that we did get together and listen to you and hear what your notions are relative to compensation.”

The state’s official study shows that state workers’ pay now is 18.9 percent below market levels.

The first to testify at this afternoon’s hearing was Michelle Doane, an auditor with the Idaho Transportation Department. “Six years ago, I left private industry to come to work for the state,” she told the six lawmakers, who in addition to Ringo and King include Reps. Hy Kloc, Janie Ward-Engleking, and John Gannon, all D-Boise. “I didn’t leave for the pay or benefits. I came because I wanted to serve.” She said her pay is “below that of my peers in private industry,” and opportunities for advancement are limited. “In order to receive more pay, I must get promoted rather than improve my skills,” Doane said. “It is very disheartening when we learned that there would be no CEC this year, and yet we are paying more for Social Security, health insurance and our PERSI. What does that say to the employees who serve this great state?” She said, “Holding back on our pay is a short-term solution causing long-term harm.”

Said Janet French, a technical records specialist for ITD, “We’re living paycheck to paycheck.” She said she’s worked for the state for more than 10 years and has advanced education, but her pay leaves her turning to Goodwill to shop for clothes, including the sweater and skirt she wore to the hearing. Ringo told her, “You look great, by the way,” and the audience gave French a round of applause. Scott Witzel, an ITD snowplow driver for the past five years, said the state's pay rates are “embarrassing” compared to those in neighboring states.

Shelly Doty, a 22-year state employee, drew a round of applause when she said, “To me, having pay grades for an average family that falls into the poverty level is appalling.” She said, “In a sense, we’re providing our own customers for Health & Welfare.”

Steve Seale, a 32-year state employee, said, “Maybe we could have an employee compensation commission that takes it out of the hands of the Legislature.”

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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