By Dean A. Ferguson
The State Employee Compensation Interim Committee is not recommending immediate layoffs, said Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston. Rather, the committee wants the state to discard its tight-budget policy of keeping workers while not giving raises.
"I don't think that's a logical assumption – that we're considering any layoffs – we're not," said Stegner. "In fact, this year is going to be a significantly good year for improved competitiveness for state employees. I think we're going to see the largest increase (to wages) that we've had in four years."
The compensation committee studied "broader issues of policy" that have brought state worker wages to 14.2 percent below market rates, said Stegner.
"We're examining long-term statutory and rule policies that, first of all, has contributed to the noncompetitive position the state finds itself in today," said Stegner.
Idaho let wages stagnate so it wouldn't have to lay off workers or find more money for salaries. As a result, those workers are fleeing for better paying jobs.
The problem is costly.
The District 2 Department of Transportation, which covers north central Idaho's five counties, lost 17 of its 172 employees in the nine months between February and November, said District Engineer James Carpenter.
Fifteen of the 17 employees left for better-paying jobs, said Carpenter.
"We do put a lot of training into our employees," said Carpenter.
Along with training costs, the department pays for workers to get inspector licenses and commercial driver's licenses. The department spends more on maintenance costs when inexperienced employees operate equipment.
But, firing some employees so other employees can get raises only exacerbates the problem, said Rep. Mike Mitchell, D-Lewiston.
"Don't kid yourself that cutting people out is going
to make things any better," said Mitchell.
"In some cases, you have experienced employees who
can't come back to the call to overtime because they're holding down
another job, and that's a fact," said Mitchell.
Just talking about layoffs has spurred more workers to
start job hunting, said Mitchell. The compensation committee shouldn't
toss around ideas that haven't been studied, he said.
A better idea would be for lawmakers to raise the money
to pay workers, he said.
"The committee believes that it is important to keep employees as close to competitive market rates as we can," said Stegner. "If that means at some point having to let some employees go so that we have the money to keep other employees at market rate, that is something the Legislature should consider."
He added that committee, which meets again later this month, is also likely to recommend new guidelines for the governor when he proposes employee raises annually.
Along with recommending the typical general merit-based increase, the governor's office would examine benefits packages and market pay rates. Also, the governor would be asked to target jobs, such as nursing and engineers, where the job market is increasing more rapidly.
"That's the most significant proposal to come out of that committee," said Stegner.
Originally published 12-7-05