Civil service pay hike out of reach this year

Golden Meadow Lower receives $200 stipend for safety
March 23, 2010
Local lawmakers’ pre-filings a mixed bag
March 25, 2010

The state of Louisiana faces a fiscal crisis that has forced drastic cuts in education and health care. And many Louisianians are struggling in a tight labor market, facing stagnant or shrinking paychecks.

Yet the members of the state’s Civil Service Board still want most state employees to get what amounts to automatic pay raises ranging from 3 percent to 5 percent annually. That’s unaffordable and completely out of touch with the economic hardships most Louisianians are facing.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who vetoed a slightly higher pay raise proposal from the board in December, should reject this latest incarnation as well.

The board is allegedly trying to strengthen a system in which the state’s 61,000 civil service employees are supposed to get pay increases based on merit. But it’s a merit-based system in name only. In reality, most employees get pay hikes automatically – whether Louisiana is flush or not and whether the worker’s performance is ordinary or outstanding.

Last year, as the state cut public services, 98.4 percent of all classified state workers got a 4 percent “merit-based” pay raise.

By contrast, personal income in Louisiana fell by 0.4 percent in the third quarter of the year, the biggest drop nationwide, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

Just as Louisianians were earning less, the Civil Service Board last fall sent Gov. Jindal a proposal that made most state workers eligible for annual pay raises of 3 percent to 6 percent. The governor, who said he wants to give state agencies more latitude to grant real merit pay raises, objected to the top-level 6 percent increase and vetoed the plan.

But the 5 percent the board is now proposing is hardly better. That’s not the only problem with the plan. The board’s proposal also would make a 3 percent increase the default benefit for most state workers, since the vast majority pass the evaluations on which pay raises are based.

If a state agency deemed that workers warranted pay raises of less than 3 percent or no pay raise at all, the agency would need to justify that to the board by pleading economic hardship or threatening layoffs.

So in these hard fiscal times, an agency head would have to explain a modest pay raise but an unaffordable increase would be granted automatically. Taxpayers surely would find that a galling proposition.

The pay raise for state workers may at first not seem as sensational as last year’s failed effort by greedy legislators to give themselves a huge pay hike. But the Civil Service Board’s proposal is fiscally irresponsible because of its higher total costs. An even bigger problem, of course, is that the state’s bureaucracy – with 105,000 employees – is too large. The Jindal administration has been steadily chipping away at the number, eliminating jobs by attrition mostly.

But the bureaucracy needs to be cut down to a size our economy can afford, and pay increases should be reasonable and targeted.

– The Times-Picayune, New Orleans