Lawmakers trying to track how Louisiana spends its money are learning that even if they don’t fund pay raises, state agencies still are finding ways to boost worker salaries.
Promotions, merit raises, optional pay. The raises have many names.
And that’s irritating members of the House Appropriations Committee who are combing through next year’s $24.8 billion budget proposal and asking why services keep getting cut if departments can afford to increase worker pay.
“We sit here believing we’re keeping a tab on salaries, and we’re not,” said Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, during a recent budget hearing. “If we’re cutting the budgets, the last thing we ought to do is raise salaries.”
The pay raises aren’t applied evenly, and vary from agency to agency.
Some employees have gone years without an increase, while others have been more fortunate.
That’s part of Appropriations Committee members’ complaints, that many rank-and-file workers have been told they need to “do more with less” and that everyone is being treated the same, when clearly that’s not the case.
“My commitment for the last six years has been that we’re all in it together. We’re going to all stay at the bottom and when we all rise, we’re going to rise together,” said Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro.
Raises have been handed out by statewide elected officials, such as Treasurer John Kennedy and Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, and also by some of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s cabinet secretaries.
No complete tally has been done of pay raises over the past year, but the details have trickled out as individual agencies go to the Appropriations Committee to talk about the budget for the next year that begins July 1.
“It would be a fair analysis to believe that the agencies have chosen to prioritize, in some cases, raises over services,” said Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette.
Donelon and Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said they gave across-the-board 4 percent merit raises to classified employees this year because they couldn’t sign a civil service form attesting that they didn’t have enough money in their agencies.
“I could not honestly sign the letter,” Donelon said of the raises that cost the Department of Insurance $540,000.
His department is self-financed and brought in more money than expected this year from licensing fees and other revenue sources.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office gave pay increases to employees who were promoted, but also to workers with added job responsibilities and raised the salaries given to some new hires.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler said of his 33 pay bumps this year, 27 were required under civil service rules because people such as technicians who work on voting machines received higher certification levels and moved up the civil service pay scale.
Agency chiefs have defended the performance of their workers, saying that as continuing budget cuts eliminate state jobs, employees have been forced to perform more tasks and have become even more valuable.
Fannin said if the pay changes don’t increase the overall amount spent on salaries, he wouldn’t object.
“But that’s not what’s happening. Your bottom line is changing and it seems like you’re prioritizing raises,” Fannin told one official.
Whatever the rationale, whether civil service rules or performance rewards, pay raises are going to weigh heavily as the House committee decides how it will craft next year’s budget and how to divvy up the state’s limited money.
Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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