The overwhelming Republican legislative majority on Thursday unofficially endorsed GOP Gov. Phil Batt’s allocation of $20.6 million for state employee pay increases in the new budget year.
But Senate Republicans parted company with the governor over how to distribute the money to the state’s more than 16,000 workers. The House majority is expected to follow suit once it has enough time to hash the issue out.
“We were quite supportive of the 5 percent figure the governor is talking about,” House Republican Caucus Chairman John Tippets of Bennington said after the 59 House Republicans met on the issue for an hour.
“There is strong support to do the right thing for state employees,” Tippets said.
The Senate’s 30-member Republican majority took the same action an hour earlier in its own closed-door caucus but backed an alternative distribution method that would guarantee every state worker at least a 2 percent increase.
House Republican Floor Leader Bruce Newcomb said the House GOP membership would meet again today to determine its stand on distribution, although he speculated the caucus would agree with the Senate.
The unofficial actions will guide the special House-Senate committee handling employee compensation when it makes its recommendation next week.
The panel had hoped to act Thursday, but the delay by House Republicans precluded that.
Batt’s proposal allocates $500,000 in general tax money to raise the pay of entry-level workers; the rest of the $20.6 million would be disbursed based on merit.
That plan has drawn fire from labor because it does not guarantee a raise for all state workers, who were stiffed by lawmakers a year ago.
The governor has warned lawmakers not to tinker with the amount of cash he set aside for pay hikes, but he indicated he would consider other distribution plans.
The one favored by Senate Republicans would take about $8.4 million for across-the-board pay increases and earmark another $5.5 million to bring employees who have been on the job more than five years up to the midpoint of the pay schedule. The remaining $7 million would be left to managers to distribute based on merit.
While the Senate alternative solves some of the political problems created by last year’s failure to finance a pay hike, it creates serious problems for some agencies such as corrections, where an inordinate number of employees are below the midpoint on the pay schedule.
The alternative also creates a political problem of its own because it requires the House and Senate to stage full-scale debates on an issue that has been a source of aggravation to them for nearly a year.
But the governor’s plan would take effect without any legislative action.
xxxx BATT’S PLAN GOP Gov. Phil Batt proposes allocating $20.6 million for state employee pay raises in the new budget year. Under his plan, $500,000 of that money would be used to raise the pay of entry-level workers. The rest of the money would be disbursed based on merit.