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Oklahoma House leaders want pension overhaul linked to targeted pay increases

Members of the state House of Representatives would like a firm commitment from the governor and Senate to fund targeted pay increases this year before signing off on a pension overhaul bill.
by Randy Ellis Modified: March 2, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: March 2, 2014

Members of the state House of Representatives would like a commitment from the governor and Senate to fund targeted pay increases this year before signing off on a pension overhaul bill, state Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, said.

“I think the dollars are there. We may just have to make some hard decisions in other areas,” said Osborn, author of a bill to revamp the state’s employee compensation system.

Osborn has the support of House Speaker Jeff Hickman.

“I don’t think we can simply reform the pension plans now and tell our state employees, ‘We’ll get to the salary issue later,’” said Hickman, R-Fairview.

Hickman said he would like to see House members consider the pay raise bill and pension bill one right after the other on the House floor.

“I think we need to be talking about running those together,” Hickman said. “Perhaps we don’t have one without the other. That may be what we have to ultimately decide to do.”

Both bills may be taken up on the House floor as early as this week, but even if they pass, the House will get a chance to vote on them again before they become law because of procedural steps that have been taken, Osborn said.

Osborn said the goal of her employee compensation bill, House Bill 3293, is to raise state employee salaries to 90 percent of the private market within four years by setting aside 3 percent of the previous fiscal year’s payroll costs for salary adjustments each year.

Oklahoma state employees, in general, are currently paid about 20 percent less than the private market, according to the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.

Three percent of last year’s payroll would amount to about $40 million a year, according to John Estus, spokesman for the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

The plan is not to give every employee a 3 percent pay raise, however.

Instead, Osborn said she wants to see targeted raises given each year, starting with the most underpaid employees who would receive raises much higher than 3 percent, while others wait their turn.

Osborn said public safety employees, corrections employees and some Department of Human Services jobs should be first in line.

“The understanding I have with House leadership and with most members that I have visited with is that they, in general, are in favor of some pension reforms,” she said.

However, those members would like “solid assurances” from the governor that the money will be there for pay raises this year before being asked to cast a final vote for pension changes, she said.

Osborn said separate pay raise bills for troopers and some other groups are making their way through the Legislature, but she hopes her bill will be approved and funded and the other bills won’t be needed.

System change proposals

State Rep. Randy McDaniel, House author of a bill to overhaul the state pension system, said the pension system and employee compensation are linked, regardless of whether anyone wants them to be, because the high cost of supporting the current defined benefit plan crimps the state’s ability to fund other priorities such as raises and education.

Under the current defined benefit system, employees who retire after working at least 7.5 years for the state are promised a set amount, depending on their salaries and years of service.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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