State employees know what federal workers now face

JACKSON – Mississippi state employees know a lot about what President Barack Obama is proposing for federal workers.
The Democratic president is proposing a two-year freeze on the pay of civilian federal employees in an effort to make a dent – albeit a small one – in the budget deficit.
Mississippi state employees have not had a pay raise since 2007, and, in reality, have seen their pay reduced because legislation passed in 2009 increased their contribution to their pension plan from 7.25 percent of their pay to 9 percent.
The state work force has often received pay increases from the Legislature and the governor in election years. Such was the case in 2007, when the Legislature fully funded the realignment package that was designed to put state employee pay on par with similar jobs in the private sector.
The state’s roughly 30,000 employees received either the pay increase from the realignment package or $1,500, whichever was greater.
Next year will again be an election year, but there is no talk of a state employee pay raise during the 2011 session.
“They deserve one, but when you are talking about laying people off, there is no sense to talk about a pay raise,” said Rep. Jack Gadd, D-Hickory Flat.
Mississippi government is still dealing with a prolonged period of historically low state revenue collections. While collections have improved slightly, the state also must find a way to replace nearly $400 million in federal stimulus funds that have been used to fill budget holes during the economic downturn.
A recent report by the state Personnel Board said the average annual salary of Mississippi government workers is $34,022, with 62 percent earning below that amount.
The average salary of state employees in the four adjoining states is $42,175, according to the Personnel Board.
Total salary costs for Mississippi state employees dropped $24.3 million to $1.5 billion between fiscal years 2009 and 2010.
On average, the state had 32,800 employees for fiscal year 2010, which was about 55 fewer than in fiscal year 2001. But the state actually had 38,401 positions authorized for fiscal year 2010, or about 400 more than in fiscal year 2001.
While state employees haven’t received a raise in recent years, the Legislature has continued to fund the salary scale for teachers that provides a bump in pay for additional years of experience and for advanced degrees.
Gov. Haley Barbour has proposed suspending for one year the “STEP” salary increase teachers automatically received based on years of service. He said that will save $18 million.
He also made the proposal last year, but it was rejected by the Legislature and does not appear to have much support in the 2011 session.
While the state’s 30,000 teachers have continued to received their “STEP” increases, many districts chose to reduce their number of work days for the current school year, thus reducing their pay.
The districts reduced the number of days teachers worked to deal with a cutback in state funds.
Plus, teachers also were hit with the increase in their pension compensation.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

BOBBY HARRISON / Daily Journal Jackson Bureau