For 10th year, no across-the-board raise for state workers

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Arizona's top human resources official is recommending no across-the-board pay raise in 2018 for state employees, the 10th year in a row of no general salary boost for the workforce.

But the recommendation from Department of Administration Director Craig Brown to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey says the state's 33,000 workers are only making 13.6 percent less this year than their counterparts in private industry. That's a substantial change from last year's nearly 19 percent pay difference, but it's not because of any pay boosts.

Instead, the change comes from how the state measured that pay disparity. The department hired an outside consultant that used different market sources than in previous years and a more conservative approach for the comparison.

State workers haven't gotten an across-the-board pay raise since a 3 percent boost in 2008, but that raise was nearly erased by a 2 percent cut in 2011 as the state struggled with the fallout of the Great Recession. Those who had received performance pay boosts in 2008 and 2009 also had those clawed back in 2011.

In 2013, many state workers got a 5 percent increase, but only if they agreed to give up civil service protections. Most workers signed up to take the raise offered by former Gov. Jan Brewer.

That leaves salary schedules up only about 6 percent over a decade, including the 5 percent boost. The report says the average state worker now earns $45,981 per year, nearly 9 percent more than they did in 2009. It doesn't explain the difference, but it's probably due to factors including a smaller workforce, promotions and merit increases.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said state workers are valued by the governor and the average wage measure shows that. He also said that some agency directors have used extra cash freed up from vacancies to give either across-the-board boosts or yearly bonuses.

But getting more money to the state's teachers - who aren't state employees - will remain Ducey's priority when he presents his budget proposal in January, Scarpinato said.

"We want to be pushing the bulk of the dollars in this next budget into K-12," he said in an interview Tuesday. "We really believe that if there's going to be across-the-board pay increases, our K-12 teachers is where it should happen."

Arizona teachers are among the lowest-paid in the nation, and teacher raises were a major issue for Ducey and the Legislature during 2017 legislative session. Ducey originally proposed a 2 percent raise over five years, but Republican majority lawmakers boosted that to 2 percent over two years. Minority Democrats fought for a full 4 percent increase.

The state's workforce has dipped by about 1,000 workers since Ducey took office in early 2015 and is still much smaller than it was a decade ago, when it nearly reached 38,000 before layoffs in 2009 and a hiring freeze Ducey implemented as one of his first acts in office.

Scarpinato said the state has protected worker health benefits, at one point lowering premiums, and expects average worker pay to keep going up.

"You have seen average wages go up, and I think you'll probably continue to see that especially as we have attrition and we have continued vacancy savings," he said. "But the state has to live within its means."

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