January 10, 2014 in Idaho

Idaho lawmakers back raises for state workers

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Betsy Russell photo

Idaho lawmakers, including Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, second from left, debate state employee raises on Friday afternoon
(Full-size photo)

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers on a special legislative committee voted unanimously Friday to give state workers average 2 percent pay boosts next year, despite Gov. Butch Otter’s recommendation for no funding for raises.

A joint legislative committee recommended 1 percent for one-time bonuses, and 1 percent for permanent boosts. The pay would be distributed by agency directors based on merit and other factors, and agencies also would be encouraged to tap salary savings to give additional merit boosts.

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said, “I think this is an appropriate but tentative move.”

Schmidt was among three North Idaho lawmakers on the committee who backed the proposal; the others were Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Goedde said, “This motion may create some expectation that our educators would get something similar, in a percent increase.”

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chair of the Legislature’s joint budget committee, said he’d fight to accomplish that in the public school budget.

Despite a state law that requires legislators to keep state worker pay and benefits competitive, Idaho’s state worker pay levels have fallen far behind market rates. Some 20 percent of the state’s 25,000 employees make less than $20,000 a year, and 56 percent make less than $40,000. Overall pay is now 19 percent below market rates, according to the latest state report.

Otter proposed no funding for raises next year, noting that the state will face $12.7 million in increased costs for its employer share of workers’ health insurance costs next year; that’s slightly more than the cost of a 2 percent raise. But the legislators voted to cover that cost as well.

Rep Phylis King, D-Boise, noted that the employees’ share of those costs also will rise – meaning the first 1 percent they get just will cover that insurance hike. The second 1 percent would increase take-home pay.

Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot, who proposed the plan, said, “At least we have the option to protect the state to some degree from making commitments that we can’t meet, depending on what happens with the economy.”

Said Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, “I think this is a good compromise.”

Legislative budget writers will make the final call, but both co-chairs of the budget committee pushed for the funding.


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