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Leadership-backed bills could set up legislative showdown over state worker pay hikes

Leadership-backed bills could set up legislative showdown over state worker pay hikes

Dustin Hurst
February 21, 2012
Dustin Hurst
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February 21, 2012

A pair of bills introduced with the blessing of House leadership Tuesday may set up a legislative showdown between the budget setting panel and other committees.

The bills, carried by Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, offer differing plans on state worker raises. One measure would give state workers, not including teachers, 2 percent raises based on merit, as determined by agency directors.  The other measure would stop the state from handing out any raises at all.

The dueling bills could mean a clash between the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) and other legislative panels. JFAC adopted its own pay raise plan last week, opting to give state workers a permanent 2 percent pay hike. The only requirement for workers to receive the raises is that they must be performing according to job standards.

That plan, however, was not without controversy. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, attempted to designate raises be handed out based on merit. Hagedorn argued the agency directors should have the flexibility to bring the state’s lowest-paid workers up to acceptable levels, while giving less to workers in upper echelons on the wage scales.

Hagedorn’s move was defeated on a 7-13 vote in JFAC.

Democrats also objected to the pay raises, calling them insufficient for the needs of state workers. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, attempted to increase the raises to 3 percent, but the maneuver was defeated on a party-line vote. Ringo’s plan would have cost the state $34 million next year.

The JFAC-approved 2 percent raise will cost $22 million in 2013 if it is approved.

Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, questioned Hartgen’s move, noting that decisions of this type are typically made solely by JFAC. “Are we stepping on the toes of the Finance and Appropriations Committee?” Cronin asked.

Hartgen responded that while JFAC has typically decided issues of this nature, House leadership wants the relevant committees to be involved in this move. “I think it's always been the sense that policy should drive budgets rather than having budget drive policy,” Hartgen responded.

The two bills were introduced in the House Education Committee, but will likely be heard in the House State Affairs Committee or the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee, which typically handle legislation dealing with state workers.

All of these plans break ranks with Gov. Butch Otter, who called for a one-time 3 percent bonus be given to all state workers if revenues hit targets through the next year.

None of the measures cover teachers. They are set to take part in their own $30 million merit pay system, a part of the education reforms pushed through the Capitol last year. Public school workers not eligible for merit pay, like aides and other staffers, will see 2 percent pay increases if the measure is approved.

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