Gov. Butch Otter is putting a stubborn recession in the rear view mirror, growing your government workforce faster than at any time in a decade.
The push to add new state workers -- Otter is asking for another 390 in fiscal year 2018 -- means record high state employment in public education, higher education and in nearly every major state agency.
This sudden ramp-up has meant surging payroll costs, wage increases, retirement and insurance benefits, all paid with your tax dollars.
If the governor has his way the state will employ 19,320 full-time equivalent positions, a 12.2 percent increase from a recession low point in 2013 of 17,216 FTEs, according to numbers culled from various years of the state’s Legislative Budget Book. In 2016 alone, agency employment was up by 8.24 percent over 2013.
At the same time, though not fully funded by the state, certified public school staff has ballooned, according to staffing summaries by the Idaho Department of Education.
In the 2008-09 school year, the education department counted 17,638 full time equivalent positions in the state. As late as the 2015-16 school year there were 17,973. This academic year, according to state figures, that number jumped 13.5 percent to 20,405 certified equivalent positions.
Should the Legislature approve the governor’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget, which calls for 23,597 positions, certified staff will increase by 31.3 percent from the 2015-16 school year.
In keeping with Otter’s pledge to aggressively fund education, college and university staffing has risen sharply during the past three years. After dropping to a recession low 3,840 in 2011, full-time employment jumped 14.2 percent to 4,387, the number included in this year’s fiscal budget. The governor has included another 172 full-time positions in his fiscal 2018 budget.
A review of the past several years of staffing records show the state has increased its Department of Corrections workforce by 24.3 percent, from a recession low of 1,614 in 2011 to 2,006 employees this year.
Taxpayers are paying for 8 percent more law enforcement on Idaho’s highways -- 576 full-time state police positions -- than they were when the state employed 533 in 2011. The governor is asking for nine more positions for the next budget year.
The state has chosen not to grow the workforce in health and welfare or transportation. If the governor is granted his requests, health and welfare employment will be down by 5.4 percent compared to its pre-recession high, while transportation employment will be down by 8.5 percent.
Otter isn’t skimping on his own office and associated boards and commissions. From a low in 2011 of 656 employees, 750 or 11.6 percent more currently work in the governor’s office and in other commissions that report to Otter’s staff. He is hoping the present Legislature will give him 14 more, including three more workers for the Division of Human Resources.
This employment spree has been costly, according to the controller’s data. After dropping in every category from pre-recession highs to lows in 2011, by fiscal year 2016 Idaho’s state payroll costs have risen by almost 20 percent, to nearly $1.6 billion; wages by more than 14 percent to $1.1 billion; retirement by 20 percent to $130.6 million; and insurance by a whopping 64.7 percent to $235.7 million.
The bulk of the increase in payroll costs and wages has gone to pay for the highest paying jobs in the state. In fiscal year 2009, at the start of the recession, Idaho employed 2,075 people who made $70,000 a year or more. In fiscal year 2017 that number had jumped by 57.5 percent to 3,268 employees
During the same period, employment in the $60,000 to $69,999 range was up, too, by 38 percent. Conversely, the largest wage group in the state, those making $30,000 to $39,999 declined by 2.1 percent, from 5,370 to 5,257.
Do not expect cries of employment prudence or fiscal restraint to come from those who happen to be employed by the state. As it has reliably for many years, the state Division of Human Resources is asking for more and better paid workers.
In its report on employees for 2018, the division asked for another three percent increase for merit pay, to keep pace it says, with increased pay rates in the current market. According to the report, the cost of such an increase would total $39.8 million.
Also just as reliably HumanResources says Idaho continues to offer total compensation 20 percent below Idaho’s private sector and seven percent below other states’ market averages for comparable positions.
The Legislature approved pay increases of two percent in 2013 and 2015 and a three percent increase for fiscal year 2017.