Idaho state employees would get raises this year after all under a plan hatched Thursday by Gov. Phil Batt.
After legislators provided no funding for Batt’s recommended 2 percent raises this year, they passed a resolution urging state agencies to find ways to give raises or bonuses from their existing budgets. As a result, about two-thirds of state employees have gotten some kind of an increase, from bonuses to temporary pay raises to permanent boosts.
But some of the increases have been tiny, and the other third of state employees haven’t gotten anything because the agencies they work for have tighter budgets.
“That’s not acceptable,” Batt said Thursday.
So he met with Senate President Pro-tem Jerry Twiggs and House Speaker Mike Simpson on Thursday morning and won an agreement to bring all agencies up to the 2 percent level for this fiscal year. The action would be among the first business for the Legislature when it convenes in January.
“It’s something we said we should do if we could, and we’re going to,” Twiggs said Thursday afternoon. “I’d like to see the 2 percent for this year. They oughta have it.”
Twiggs said Batt asked him earlier to consider a special session of the Legislature to grant raises to state employees, but Twiggs didn’t like the idea and dissuaded Batt.
“He agreed that costs a lot of money, too,” Twiggs said.
Batt said waiting until January will allow state budget analysts to gather all of the figures.
“It appears that the money will be there, from various sources,” the governor said. “So the question is how do you do it. It’s quite complicated.”
Batt hopes to make up the difference between the scattered increases employees received and the full 2 percent he recommended, for all agencies.
The state Division of Financial Management is developing figures on how many raises, bonuses and boosts were given and where. The process is complicated because other issues, from promotions to seasonal workers, can skew the numbers.
Brad Foltman, the division’s budget bureau chief, said it appears at this point that the largest agencies - Health and Welfare, Transportation, Law Enforcement - were most able to give raises. That’s because they have multiple funding sources, and also have employee turnover that allows them to tap into salary money made available by a brief vacancy to give out bonuses or other temporary boosts.
But those at small agencies with little turnover were mostly out of luck. Three major state agencies - Corrections, Juvenile Corrections and Fish and Game - had no money for raises.
Of the roughly 16,000 state employees, about two-thirds got something, Foltman said.
But, he said, “In a lot of cases it was pretty minimal - maybe $50 or $100 per year.”
The state Transportation Department decided to give every employee who had at least a satisfactory rating on his or her job performance a 1 percent raise.
Health and Welfare, the state’s largest agency with more than 3,600 employees, gave more than 2,000 bonuses averaging about $700. Bonuses are limited by law to no more than $1,000.
At the Department of Insurance, lower-level employees got boosts but those with the rank of bureau chief or above got nothing. The state Lands and Agriculture departments did little or nothing.
Batt said he won the support of Simpson and Twiggs to “see what we can do to make this uniform.”
Batt also plans to recommend a raise for state employees in the coming fiscal year. He’s directed state agencies to use a 5 percent figure when putting together their budget requests.
“My whole attitude since I came into office is that we should reduce personnel as much as possible. But on the other hand, we should pay those that are still in the state employ a competitive wage,” he said.
Batt said the economic news for Idaho is good. “The floods didn’t cost quite as much as we thought they were going to, the fires were relatively light this year. Collections have come in a little over expectations.”
Healthy investments in the state retirement fund, lower than expected costs in Health and Welfare and a slowdown over the summer in prison inmate growth added to the good news, Batt said.
“I feel confident that we’ll find the money.”