Pay plan flies through House 93-0, heads to gov­er­nor

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - MICHAEL R. WICK­LINE

A bill over­haul­ing the pay plan for about 25,000 state em­ploy­ees at a pro­jected cost of $57 mil­lion in the com­ing fis­cal year zipped through the Arkansas House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Fri­day.

The House voted 93-0 to send Se­nate Bill 289 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, to the gov­er­nor.

The House’s ac­tion came a day af­ter the Se­nate voted 34-0 to ap­prove it and three days af­ter the Leg­is­la­ture’s Joint Bud­get Com­mit­tee rec­om­mended ap­proval.

Rep. Kar­i­lyn Brown, R-Sher­wood, said one of her con­stituents is a state em­ployee who won­dered how em­ploy­ees will be treated com­pared with new hires un­der the plan.

The plan would take ef­fect in fis­cal 2018, which starts July 1.

“Peo­ple that are in all the de­part­ments, all the com­mis­sions … will be af­fected by this pay raise. If their min­i­mum is al­ready on this pay scale, they’ll re­ceive a 1 per­cent in­crease,” said a Joint Bud­get Com­mit­tee co-chair­man, Rep. Lane Jean, R-Mag­no­lia.

But Jean said the plan won’t cover em­ploy­ees of state higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions, the High­way and Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment, Game and Fish Com­mis­sion and the seven con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers.

In the rest of state gov­ern­ment, about 54 per­cent of full­time em­ploy­ees would get raises of more than 1 per­cent, to reach the new min­i­mum salaries for their po­si­tions, and the rest would get 1 per­cent raises, ac­cord­ing to the state per­son­nel ad­min­is­tra­tor, Kay Barn­hill.

The av­er­age an­nual salary for these em­ploy­ees is about $38,500.

State em­ploy­ees aren’t get­ting cost-of-liv­ing raises in fis­cal 2017. The cur­rent pay plan was adopted in 2009.

About $24 mil­lion of the pro­jected in­creased cost of the over­haul would come from gen­eral rev­enue, with the re­main­der com­ing from other sources, Depart­ment of Fi­nance and Ad­min­is­tra­tion spokesman Jake Bleed said this week.

To fi­nance the over­haul, agen­cies will use sav­ings from at­tri­tion and ef­fi­ciency moves and may re­quest ad­di­tional money, Bleed said. The state is un­der a hir­ing freeze, which re­quires Gov. Asa Hutchin­son’s ap­proval to fill va­can­cies.

“The spe­cific sav­ings we could point to would be the hir­ing freeze, which lim­ited over­all growth in po­si­tions and pay­roll costs, the elim­i­na­tion of 1,200 po­si­tions through

the bud­get­ing process, which has sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced pay­roll costs now and go­ing for­ward, and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of new em­ployee eval­u­a­tion stan­dards, which will im­prove ef­fi­cien­cies for hir­ing and re­ten­tion of em­ploy­ees,” he said.

“Un­der the new pay plan, we’ll be able to more ac­cu­rately as­sess em­ployee per­for­mance and give man­agers more flex­i­bil­ity to op­er­ate their agen­cies in the most ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive way pos­si­ble,” Bleed said.

Some of the larger raises would be in en­try-level po­si­tions. The plan would ben­e­fit fam­ily-ser­vice work­ers, pro­gram-el­i­gi­bil­ity spe­cial­ists, reg­is­tered nurses, res­i­den­tial-care as­sis­tants, cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers and state troop­ers, ac­cord­ing to state records.

Of­fi­cials said they in­tend to re­ward em­ploy­ees with merit pay raises that in­crease base salaries, rather than con­tinue us­ing one-time bonuses as they have done for the past sev­eral years.

The new sys­tem would have four com­pen­sa­tion “tables” to re­place the cur­rent two tables: a gen­eral salary ta­ble, an in­for­ma­tion-tech­nol­ogy salary ta­ble, a med­i­cal pro­fes­sional salary ta­ble and a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive salary ta­ble.

The gen­eral salary ta­ble would range from $22,000 to $140,592, while the in­for­ma­tion-tech­nol­ogy ta­ble would range from $33,403 to $161,681. The med­i­cal pro­fes­sional ta­ble would range from $63,830 to $270,455, and the se­nior ex­ec­u­tive ta­ble would range from $108,110 to $201,700.

The leg­is­la­tion al­lows the gov­er­nor to pay state agency di­rec­tors up to 50 per­cent above the max­i­mum-au­tho­rized salary for the pay grade as­signed to the clas­si­fi­ca­tion with the ap­proval of ei­ther the Joint Bud­get Com­mit­tee or the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil. That pro­vi­sion is in­cluded for the gov­er­nor to re­quest ap­proval of salaries of ex­ist­ing state agency di­rec­tors who are paid above $201,700 a year, Barn­hill said.

The cur­rent plan in­cludes 11,037 clas­si­fied po­si­tions at higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions in fis­cal 2017. Those in­sti­tu­tions’ po­si­tions will be placed in a sep­a­rate pay plan in fis­cal 2018, said Maria Markham, direc­tor of the Depart­ment of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion.

It would cost higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions about $17 mil­lion more for clas­si­fied em­ploy­ees to re­main in the plan for other state em­ploy­ees, Markham said.

Arkansas State Univer­sity Sys­tem Pres­i­dent Chuck Welch said ASU sup­ports cre­at­ing a sep­a­rate higher ed­u­ca­tion uni­form clas­si­fi­ca­tion and com­pen­sa­tion act.

“This has long been a de­sire of higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions in an ef­fort to in­clude all clas­si­fied staff un­der the Arkansas Depart­ment of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, where our non­clas­si­fied staff are cur­rently lo­cated,” Welch said.

“Higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions have not his­tor­i­cally re­ceived ad­di­tional state funding when the over­all state clas­si­fied pay plan is ad­justed. This pro­posed change would ap­pro­pri­ately rec­og­nize the unique needs of higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions and al­low us to con­sider all of our staff po­si­tions in a fair and eq­ui­table man­ner. We are not op­posed to the new pay plan, we sim­ply think a new struc­ture would be more ef­fi­cient and ap­pro­pri­ate,” he said.

The Univer­sity of Arkansas Sys­tem has been part of dis­cus­sions with the gov­er­nor’s of­fice, leg­is­la­tors and oth­ers about is­sues that the new plan presents for higher ed­u­ca­tion, said Nate Hinkel, a sys­tem spokesman.

These par­ties “have been dis­cussing an al­ter­na­tive plan for higher ed­u­ca­tion that would al­low in­sti­tu­tions to im­ple­ment ap­pro­pri­ate [cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ments] and merit raises un­der the cur­rent cod­i­fied Clas­si­fi­ca­tion and Com­pen­sa­tion Act,” he said.

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