Peach said when he took over the Agriculture Department, many of the employees were at the low end of a three-level pay scale.
â€œWhen I came on board eight years ago, we started hiring everybody at midpoint,â€ Peach said. â€œOver this full eight years, we were never able to have enough money to catch everybody up, but we were able to get everybody at midpoint.â€
With the latest raises, Peach said classified employees will be making the same as everybody else at their job level. For example, there used to be a difference in pay between employees classified as â€œForester I.â€ That difference will be eliminated, he said.
â€œWe're still way underpaid compared to a lot of other state agencies,â€ Peach said. â€œOther state agencies have been doing this thing for the last two or three years. We actually put a freeze on our budget two years ago, so we didn't give any raises those years. That actually paid off very well for us because we had two furlough days last year, and many agencies had more than that.â€
Scott Barger, deputy director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said it could be risky to give raises halfway through the state's fiscal year.
â€œDuring these times, I think most of the state agencies out there that have â€˜lapsed' personnel money are holding on to that,â€ Barger said. â€œYou never know when you can utilize that money to help the budget situation and keep employees on the front lines.â€
Gov.-elect Mary Fallin named Jim Reese as her agriculture secretary last month. Reese, a former state representative, served as a federal agriculture official under President George W. Bush. More recently, he was a rural policy adviser to outgoing House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa.