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Move to boost DEQ workers pay falls short on party-line vote

A budget for the state Department of Environmental Quality that generally matches the governor’s recommendation – including the addition of $300,000 for a fish consumption study to stave off potentially more stringent water pollution rules from the EPA – has won JFAC approval, though Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, expressed concern. “I sure do feel like we’re not only being held over a barrel by the EPA in that regard, but now we’re being asked to use general fund taxpayer dollars to navigate that,” he said. However, Bayer ended up supporting the motion.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, proposed an alternative budget plan that would add in a quarter of the amount necessary to move to move the department’s salaries closer to state policy levels. It would cost $830,000 to bring the department up to 90 percent of policy levels for its staff salaries; she proposed adding in $207,000 in state general funds. “This particular agency has been a poster child in the past for turnover rates that deal with the inability to have competitive pay, particularly for the more highly skilled positions,” Ringo said. “But in general, if we look at the report that was recently released by the Office of Performance Evaluations, this agency is one of the more troubled ones with low compa-ratio; it’s in the neighborhood of 81 to 82 percent. I think it is something that merits our attention.”

She noted that Idaho law requires lawmakers to make public employee compensation a top priority. “Our public employees have certainly helped us during the economic downturn to balance our budget,” Ringo said, noting that collectively, state workers took $12 million in pay reductions through furloughs.

A retired math teacher, Ringo said, “I’m not ignoring our obligation that we took last Friday to limit our spending to 3 percent.” She said her approach would spend just “a small percent of what our target is.” Ringo said, “I think it’s something that realistically we can look at doing, and I think we should do it.”

Ringo’s motion, however, failed on a 4-14 party-line vote, with only the joint committee's four Democrats supporting it. The original motion then passed on a 16-2 vote, with just Sens. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, and Sheryl Nuxoll R-Cottonwood, objecting.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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