States May Boost Salaries, With a Catch

By: - May 14, 2012 12:00 am

State employees in a number of states are expecting to soon see their first pay bumps in years. But for workers in Arizona and Virginia, those bonuses or salary increases may come with conditions.

As part of an overhaul of Arizona’s civil service system that was a centerpiece of Republican Governor Jan Brewer’s agenda this year, some state employees will have to make a choice between a 5 percent salary increase and the job protections they currently receive as civil servants.

Employees who choose a raise — their first since 2008 — will move from protected civil service to “at will” status and lose their right to file a grievance or appeal disciplinary actions. Brewer says that there is no reason for state employees to be treated differently than their counterparts in the private sector, who enjoy no such job protections. Opponents argue that the change will foster political patronage and cronyism.

In Virginia, Republican Governor Robert McDonnell has proposed an amendment to the budget passed by the legislature that would give state employees a one-time 3 percent bonus only if state agencies find .3 million in savings by the time the fiscal years ends on June 30. State employees would receive a pro-rated amount as long as at least million is saved.

The legislature will consider the proposal and the governor’s other budget amendments when it reconvenes today (May 14). State employees haven’t received a salary increase since 2007 but received a similar one-time bonus in 2010. Under the proposal passed by the legislature, the bonuses were to be funded out of the state’s projected end-of-year balance of .2 million.

Ronald Jordan, executive director of the Virginia Governmental Employees Association, doesn’t believe the proposed agency savings requirement to be a fair or realistic goal. “Essentially the governor’s proposal would require that all the savings be accrued with less than 50 days left in the fiscal year,” he says. “There’s no fat left in state agencies. The only way you’re going to save that kind of money in that about of time is by reducing services to the public or cutting staff.”

Jordan says labor-intensive agencies such as the Virginia State Police, which has been affected by increases in gas prices, and the corrections system would have a particularly difficult time coming up with the required savings. “Do you cut the security staffing or do you cut the inmate food?” he says of the Department of Corrections’ budget.

In an email to Stateline, Jeff Caldwell, McDonnell’s press secretary, said the governor’s goal is to provide a true, incentive-based performance bonus similar to what employees in the private sector typically experience. “This method ensures state employees are looking to deliver their core government services in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible, gives them control over the bonus (rather than relying on revenues over which they have no control), and provides an incentive for them not to ‘spend down’ end of the year balances to secure similar funding for subsequent years,” he said.   

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Melissa Maynard

Melissa Maynard oversees the Pew state fiscal health project’s Fiscal 50 online resource, which helps policymakers understand fiscal, economic, and demographic trends affecting their states by tracking tax revenue, reserves, employment rates, Medicaid spending, and other issues important to long-term fiscal health.