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Wednesday, August 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  ID Government

Eye on Boise: Double-standard exists for state employee pay

By Betsy Russell Idaho Press

BOISE – When the Idaho Legislature approves pay increases for state employees, it generally does so only on a merit basis. So the 3% that lawmakers approved this year is a total funding amount, but the raise each worker actually gets depends entirely on their supervisor’s review of their job performance and it could be more or less than 3%.

There was one exception to that in this year’s Change in Employee Compensation legislation: Lawmakers set a minimum increase of $550 for all full-time state employees, to ensure that the lowest-paid employees got a boost.

“I think lower-income people have more difficulty meeting life’s needs,” Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot, co-chairman of the Legislature’s joint committee on state employee pay, said in January. “We had substantial testimony about increased rents and increased costs. So we did a mix.”

Overall, Idaho’s state worker pay lags about 12% below market rates, according to the state’s annual employee compensation report.

Next comes the question of what kinds of raises state agency heads get this year. Elected officials’ salaries are set by law, but those of agency heads aren’t.

When the state Land Board recently considered a pay boost for the state lands director, Dustin Miller, the board voted unanimously after an executive session to give Miller a 3% pay boost, including the $550 minimum, matching the average for other state employees. Board members cited a June 4 memo to all state agencies from Zach Hauge, chief of staff for Gov. Brad Little, on pay increases for directors and agency heads.

That memo says, “All directors and agency heads will receive a 3 percent ongoing salary increase, which encompasses a $550 per year increase, effective July 1, 2019. Please work with DHR and DFM to finalize the increase.”

DHR is the state Division of Human Resources. DFM is the governor’s Division of Financial Management.

So, if state workers’ pay raises are dependent on performance, why do directors and agency heads get 3% across the board? I posed that question to Alex Adams, DFM chief and Little’s budget director.

Adams responded that Little followed the Legislature’s lead for this year “in most instances.”

“If he did not find the service of a particular director meritorious enough to receive the recommended 3% increase, then it is likely that director would no longer serve in his administration,” Adams said. “He generally felt five months was too early in the administration to consider requests beyond the 3% recommendation.”

The memo also directed all agency heads to report in writing on their agencies’ progress in meeting the governor’s objectives and key results before next year’s CEC decisions.

The Land Board, which Little chairs, included in its decision on Miller’s pay hike that measurements and goals for the director will be developed for use in next year’s pay decisions. State Controller Brandon Woolf made the motion, state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra seconded it, and it passed unanimously.

Biden planning Idaho fundraiser

Former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is heading to Idaho for a fundraiser at a private home in the Sun Valley area in early August, the Idaho Mountain Express reports.

Biden and his wife, Jill, are scheduled to attend the fundraiser at the home of Alan and Melinda Blinken on Aug. 5, the newspaper reports. Alan Blinken is the former U.S. ambassador to Belgium who ran for the Senate in 2002 as a Democrat against then-Idaho GOP Sen. Larry Craig.

The Express notes that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, another Democratic presidential hopeful, held a fundraiser in Ketchum on July 21.

State’s year-end balance: $101.4 million

When the state closed the books on its fiscal year on July 1, the final figures from the Legislative Budget Office show it had a year-end, unobligated balance in the state general fund of $101.4 million. While state tax revenues for the fiscal year fell slightly below forecasts, the Legislature had set the budget planning for an even larger year-end balance; the final figure is $20.4 million lower than expected at the close of this year’s legislative session.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s major reserve funds closed the year with a balance of $516 million. In the year-end General Fund Budget Monitor, legislative budget analyst Keith Bybee noted two significant changes to those reserve funds at the close of the fiscal year. First, the Budget Stabilization Fund, the state’s main rainy-day fund, had to transfer out $40.4 million to the general fund to avoid exceeding the fund’s statutory cap of 10% of the previous year’s revenue collections. That brought the Budget Stabilization Fund to $373.2 million.

Secondly, the Public Education Stabilization Fund was drawn down by $31.6 million due to higher-than-expected student enrollment in Idaho schools. That brought the Public Education Stabilization Fund to a $62.2 million year-end balance.

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