Dozens of legislative staffers receive pay raises
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Sunday, February 17, 2013
2/17/13 at 8:20 AM
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OKLAHOMA CITY - While state employees have not had an across-the-board pay raise in seven years, some legislative staffers in January quietly got raises, some hefty.
Twenty-five Senate employees got pay raises ranging from 0.7 percent to 37.9 percent while 18 House staffers got raises ranging from $1,500 to $6,500.
Annualized, the raises cost about $211,500, according to figures provided by Senate and House staff.
The highest was a $22,000 pay increase to a Senate leadership staffer, bringing his pay to $80,000. The staffer changed jobs and assumed more responsibilities, said Nathan Atkins, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.
"They work hard and deserve a raise," said Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, D-Claremore. "So do your schoolteachers and the rest of our state employees. I was not involved in this decision, and it is the first I have heard of it."
Likewise, House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said while the raises may have been deserved, it looks bad and sends the wrong message.
High turnover among state employees is costing the state millions, Inman said.
Atkins said the Senate has cut $2.9 million from its budget since 2009.
"This could not have been done without the hard work of Senate staff and their willingness to assume additional responsibilities," Atkins said.
The House pay raises were budgeted in July 2012 and were performance-based, said Joe Griffin, a spokesman for House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton.
The increases were paid for through cost savings, he said.
State agencies were also forced to reduce staff during the economic downturn years. Since 2009, state agencies have reduced employee positions by 3,800, saving the state tens of millions of dollars, according to the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.
Some agencies were able to give targeted raises.
An interim study looked at employee pay.
Gov. Mary Fallin in her executive budget put $200,000 toward a study of employee pay.
The study will look at salaries and benefits, where past studies looked at salaries alone, said Lucinda Meltabarger, administrator of the Human Capital Management Division for the state.
It could take four to six months for it to be completed, she said.
"I don't need a study to know teachers are not paid enough," Burrage said. "I don't need a study to know correctional officers aren't paid enough. The same goes for Department of Human Services workers."
"We don't begrudge any hardworking Oklahomans for a raise," said Linda Hampton, Oklahoma Education Association president. "We do know it has been seven years since teachers and support professionals had a raise. It is matter of priorities."
Kevin Jones is a sergeant with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. He hasn't received a raise to his just-under-$30,000 salary since he was hired years ago. He quit his job in the private sector so he could receive benefits. He works at Jess Dunn Correctional Center in Taft.
Jones said he was surprised to learn of the legislative staff pay increases.
"I am sure they have it coming, but we all need a share of it," Jones said.
Shannon said employees need to be rewarded for performance and not based on years of experience.
"Across-the-board increases are a relic of past," Shannon said last month. "We really need to focus on market-driven principles in state government."
He said correctional officers, troopers and teachers are probably underpaid.
"We need to be rewarding our very best," Shannon said. "We need to incentivize good behavior. I think the best way to do that is a market plan that encourages good behavior and best-market practices."
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association is seeking $1,000 increases for state employees who meet or exceed standards to offset increases in insurance, said Trish Frazier, OPEA policy director.
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465