After lengthy debate Friday, members of the budget setting committee approved giving state workers a 2 percent pay hike next year.
That's less than the 3 percent than Gov. Butch Otter proposed in his budget, but the measure approved by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) could have longer-lasting effects. Otter pushed for a one-time bonus for state workers, while JFAC approved it on a permanent basis.
There was significant disagreement about the raise amount, as well as the ongoing nature of the pay hike.
Committee Democrats argued that while 2 percent may help state workers, a permanent 3 percent increase would begin to make up for no raises in the past few years.
“I just think 2 percent is too little given the circumstances we’re in,” said Rep Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. “We have people leaving for higher paying positions. We have evidence of that.”
Jaquet urged the budget committee to rebuff plans for tax cuts in favor of providing more money to state employees.
The 2 percent permanent increase will cost $22 million, including $12.1 million in state funding. The 3 percent hike would have cost $34 million.
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said lawmakers should be cognizant of the needs of state workers. “I think there are the resources to do 3 percent,” said Ringo. “From here on out, it’s just a matter of priorities.”
The Democrats’ push to give the 3 percent permanent raise was killed on a 4-16 party-line vote, with all Republicans opposing the move.
It wasn’t only Democrats uncomfortable with the permanent 2 percent plan, however. Sen. Dean Mortimer,R-IdahoFalls, motioned to approve 2 percent pay hikes on a one-time basis, citing economic uncertainty as his motivation. “I feel strongly we’re not sure we know where our economy is going yet,” Mortimer said. “They’ve worked hard for less and they deserve this money. But I still am very concerned about where our economy is going.”
Mortimer said he would hate to give the permanent raise and then take it back if revenues don’t hit targets.
But Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said lawmakers could find other places to cut if money doesn’t come in to state coffers as planned. “There will certainly be places we can take money out of the budget … and we have to wind up cutting agencies and budget,” said Wood.
Mortimer’s motion was killed on a 1-19 vote.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said the permanent 2 percent hike is the most the state can responsibly give. “I do believe we have some serious issues across our employee workforce we need to address,” she said. “I do think it’s in balance with the economic times we continue to struggle with.”
After approving the 2 percent permanent increase, Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, moved to allow agency directors to give some workers more and some employees less than that amount, citing the need for flexibility.
His move was defeated on a 7-13 vote. That means all eligible state workers will see 2 percent pay hikes next year, if the pay hike clears the Statehouse and is signed by the governor.
Teachers are not eligible for the raise, however, because their pay hikes fall under the merit pay plan instituted as part of last year’s education reforms. Public school workers not eligible for merit pay bonuses will receive the 2 percent permanent pay hike.