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Eye On Boise

Bell: After state cuts, ‘there is no dead wood,’ urges consideration of raises for state employees

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, drew a brief burst of applause for her comments to the Change in Employee Compensation Committee this afternoon. “We have eliminated many, many positions, and those who are left know their jobs and do them well,” she said. Noting that the Otter Administration says 52 percent of state workers got some type of raise this year from salary savings, “I do say to you, there are not 48 percent of those employees that are left who are gold-brickers. … We have downsized state government. … This is a system, these are the people that run the systems and take care of the citizens of the state after we put the process in place, and ask them to be there to do that.”

She said, “There is no dead wood.” State agency heads tell her those folks were the first to go, Bell said. “But frankly, they kind of wonder if this is a good place to work. I don’t want them to wonder.” Bell said she wants the state to be the best place to work for its employees, and thanked the panel for convening this year for the first time since 2008 to examine state worker compensation. “They will have had a hearing, and I thank you for that,” Bell said, her voice taut with emotion.

Her JFAC co-chairman, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said both benefits and pay matter. “The dilemma for us on salaries, is you still have to have a competitive pay package in order to attract and retain those employees,” he said. “I don’t think you can do one at the exclusion of the other. … Are we competitive right now? I’m not sure we are. We hear stories, as we talk to agency directors, about entire technology teams being hired away by a competing entity. We hear those kinds of issues. I believe we have to address that. Can we address it all at once? No. This, I think, becomes the first step in starting to address it, holding this CEC Committee, revisiting it.”

Asked about benefits as a lure for state employees, Bell said, “Most young people will never get sick or need health care, and they’re really not looking at retirement. ... If we’re looking to bring bright young engineers and those people into state government, those are really not very attractive to them.”

Cameron suggested that as a middle-ground approach, if the CEC Committee doesn’t feel it can pass a resolution setting a percentage funding increase it wants to see for state worker raises next year, it could instead approve a recommendation to JFAC; that was often done in the past, he noted.

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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