HR chief says lack of raises spurs exodus of Idaho state workers

Only 13.1% had raises, bonuses in past two years

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne says he´s sensitive to the situation

No raises for state employees for two straight years is prompting many to move to other jobs despite a difficult employment market, Idaho Division of Human Resources Director Ann Heilman warns.

Heilman is calling for some kind of pay incentive to stem the departures.

State workers´ average wages are now 14.6 percent below market rates. And some groups, such as state nurses, are more than 22 percent below the mark, she said.

To bring the wages up to the market rate would cost a staggering $85 million next year, an amount no one in state government expects Idaho´s tight state budget to yield. As a result, state workers´ morale is down, and average turnover is up to 13 percent — 28 percent for nurses.

“Even in this depressed job market where many people are having trouble finding jobs, state employees are leaving for other jobs,” Heilman said. “What concerns me is when the economy turns and people have more opportunities, what´s our turnover going to do?”

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said he is aware of the situation.

“I´m very sensitive to the fact that for an outstanding group of state employees that have worked diligently through these tough times, it´s been two years,” Kempthorne said.

But each percentage hike for 24,000 state salaries costs the state budget $5 million. And with Idaho´s temporary sales tax increase scheduled to expire on July 1, 2005 — leaving a $160 million hole in the state budget — funding is uncertain.

Heilman is recommending a variety of options, led by a 10 percent pay boost for the state´s nurses. She also suggests a five-year plan to bring state salaries up to the mark, which would require funding for raises averaging 6.8 percent next year, and each of the following four years.

If that cannot be done, she recommends as much of an overall increase as possible. Failing that, Heilman seeks one-time bonuses for outstanding employees to entice them to stay with the state through the downturn.

“I think the vast majority of state employees are hopeful that this Legislature will give them a signal that they´re valued. It´s the state employees that have been saving the money.”

The past two years have been difficult. Legislators allowed agencies to grant raises if they could find savings in their personnel budgets.

But only 13.1 percent — 3,174 workers out of 24,239 — got raises or bonuses. Agencies could only use savings from their personnel budgets, not from other areas. With budget cuts and layoffs, those were hard to come by.

One agency that recently found savings to offer raises was the state Department of Correction. The money found was because fewer inmates arrived at the state´s prisons than expected, meaning fewer guards and support workers had to be hired on. The move caused some legislators to wonder whether the decision to shift the dollars was made too soon in the fiscal year.

But at the same time, rising health insurance costs have meant decreases in take-home pay for some state employees. And 73 state employees were laid off in fiscal year 2003, which ended July 1. Heilman said some had more than 20 years of state service.

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