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House panel defeats bill denying state worker raises, supports 2 percent wage hikes

House panel defeats bill denying state worker raises, supports 2 percent wage hikes

Dustin Hurst
February 24, 2012
Dustin Hurst
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February 24, 2012

In quick action Thursday, the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee killed a bill that would have denied state workers raises in the next fiscal year.

A second measure, basing raises on merit alone, was altered to match a prior wage recommendation.

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, asked that the bill denying raises be held, saying there is no desire to consider it.

The second measure is being sent to the House amending order so lawmakers can change it to align it with a permanent 2 percent state worker pay raise recommendation set by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) last week. The JFAC measure would give all state workers 2 percent raises if they meet performance standards.

Hartgen’s bill would have still given an overall 2 percent raise to state workers, but agency directors would have had flexibility with allotted funds.

The merit-based raise debate originally came up in the budget committee. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, attempted to implement the merit system in the JFAC plan, but was defeated on a 7-13 vote. “It was my feeling that was the right way to go,” Hartgen said, voicing his support of Hagedorn’s move.

In public testimony, Rhonda Ledford, an employee within the Department of Juvenile Corrections, told committee members she feels all state workers need to be recognized equally with pay hikes. “Raises should not be given on merit,” Ledford said, adding that subjective guidelines associated with merit are likely unfair. “Merit is subject to human nature.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, asked Ledford if she would rather have the raise or a tax cut, another budget priority for next year. Ledford rejected the idea of a tax cut. “In all honestly, we need help,” Ledford said. “We need help making ends meet.”

Donna Yule, lobbyist of the Idaho Public Employees Association, sided with Ledford. “All state employees deserve a pay raise,” Yule said. “All I am saying is that this is a simple matter of fairness.”

Yule warned that some agency directors might play favorites with workers, leaving less-favored employees without raises. “There are some that are not going to be fair in the way they distribute these raises,” Yule warned.

Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, suggested the state might offer workers a blended model, with a small base raise and then some amount of merit award, but Yule rejected the time. “This is not the time,” Yule said.

The measure will head to the House amending order, where anyone can propose changes to it. One committee member, Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, may cause trouble for the measure when it hits the House floor. Simpson voted against the measure, saying he doesn’t support the concept. “I just have some other ideas,” Simpson said, adding that he supports giving more money to state workers, but not as a blanket proposal. “I just can’t support it the way it is.”

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