There have been numerous ideas passed around the Capitol this year as to how the state can make up for four straight years of no wage hikes for employees, but it appears the issue is close to settled.
The Idaho House, on a 54-14 vote Tuesday, affirmed a plan presented by the budget committee to give state workers a 2 percent pay hike. The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration.
The pay hike would be permanent under the plan and would go to state workers who meet performance standards. Idaho teachers would not be eligible for the pay boost, however, because they are covered under a merit pay plan for their wage hikes.
Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, sponsor of the raise legislation, said the 2 percent increase is likely the most the state can do to make up the wage gap. “This has been a very difficult time for our state agencies and for our hard-working employees,” Hartgen said.
But others challenged the concept, if for different reasons.
Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said the 2 percent boost would help higher-paid workers, like agency directors, more than it would aid lower-paid employees, like snow plow drivers. Hagedorn argued for a 1 percent base raise added with another 1 percent merit raise so agency directors could bring up the wages of lowest-paid workers.
Nearly all state agency directors, in their meetings with the budget committee, complained of employee churn due to low wages. Hagedorn believes the 2 percent pay raise “does not solve our problems in recognizing our problem of people who are not making enough money to stay in employment with the state.”
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, argued in favor of the plan, but suggested legislative priorities got in the way of adding to employee salaries. Rusche pointed to a $35 million tax cut passed in the House last week as a measure that prevents the state from doing more for workers. “Many of us agree ... our employees deserve more,” Rusche said. “However, we just passed a significant tax cut. We can’t have it both ways. This is probably the best we can do at this time.”
The employee pay measure now heads to the Senate. The measure represents a compromise among parties. Gov. Butch Otter called for a 3 percent one-time bonus for all state workers, including teachers, but the budget committee rejected that in favor of its own plan. Budget Democrats asked for 3 percent permanent raises, but that plan was also rejected. Democrats fell in line with the 2 percent permanent raise after their plan was rejected.
The state worker raises will cost taxpayers $22 million next year.