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Luna defends big pay raises for staffers

Idaho's schools superintendent is defending big pay raises he gave his top staffers earlier this year as temporary hikes that are part of a strategy to ease the transition for his successor, the Lewiston Tribune reports. Those who received raises include Tom Luna's former deputy chief of staff, Jason Hancock, whose wage was bumped from $44.40 per hour to $65.23 per hour. Former communications director Melissa McGrath received a raise from $36 per hour to $49.54. Both Hancock and McGrath have since left the Idaho Department of Education, but most of the 22 people who also received raises remain, Luna told the Tribune. Click below for a full report from the AP and the Trib.

No raises recommended for most state elected officials for the next two years…

That, unanimously, is the recommendation of the Washingon Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials.

The group, voting minutes ago, agreed to freeze salaries for executive branch and legislative branch elected officials. A final decision’s due in May, after public hearings.

They’re still voting on judges’ salaries. A proposal for no increase this year and a 2 percent increase next year for judges just failed.

State employees’ union files suit over Gregoire’s refusal to include raises in her budget…

The largest state-workers’ union, the Washington Federation of State Employees, filed a lawsuit today against Gov. Chris Gregoire for not including workers’ cost-of-living increases in her budget proposal.

This fall, Gregoire’s office negotiated cost-of-living increases averaging about 2 percent a year for workers over the next two years. But she didn’t include that in her budget plan, released last Thursday.

Gregoire’s budget director, Victor Moore, says that the raises need to be part of the governor’s budget request only if he certifies the contract as “feasible financially” for the state. If Moore says it’s not feasible, he maintains, the governor “is prohibited from submitting a request for funds to the Legislature.” (Here’s a link to a  copy of the letter, in this blog post by the Tacoma News-Tribune’s Joe Turner.)

Moore says that the contracts, finalized in August and September, “were concluded prior to the global financial market crisis we all witnessed in October.” The state’s November revenue forecast, which predicted $1.9 billion less in revenues than projected just two months earlier, hurt the state’s financial plans dramatically. Paying for the raises, Moore writes, would mean even deeper cuts to the social safety net.

The lawsuit asks a Thurston County judge to “compel” the governor to submit the pay raises and the other economic parts of five negotiated contracts to state lawmakers. The agreements cover 30,000 government employees and another 10,000 at a dozen community colleges and some four-year schools.

“Both parties agreed to the terms of that agreement, with the express or implied understanding that by this agreement, the director of OFM was committing to certify that the contractual commitments were financially feasible for the state,” the lawsuit says.