State House Speaker T.W. Shannon quietly granted 52 House staff members pay raises ranging from 1.95 percent to 33.33 percent last July.
The raises were granted while rank-and-file state employees were being told they would have to await the results of a compensation study before being considered for pay hikes next year.
The three largest percentage raises went to staff attorneys, who received $15,337.50 to $15,500 a year pay increases. The lowest percentage raise went to a housekeeper who now makes $500.20 a year more than her $25,708 former salary.
The 52 employees represent nearly half of the state House's 117 permanent employees. Their combined raises total more than $280,000 a year.
Only seven state Senate staff members have received raises this year. Each received a 7 percent raise after completing a one-year probationary work period.
Shannon could not be reached for comment Monday.
Joe Griffin, spokesman for Shannon, said the speaker felt he needed to move quickly because the House has been losing staff members to other state agencies that pay better.
“We had an internal study here and we found that we had a problem retaining employees,” he said. “Time and time again it came up that pay was an issue.”
Even after the pay raises, most House staff members still will be paid less than their state Senate counterparts, Griffin contends. He provided reporters with a chart containing comparative data.
The chart indicated two staff attorneys who had been receiving $46,500 a year received $15,500 raises, increasing their pay to $62,000 a year. The pay of a third attorney was raised $15,337.50 a year — going from $50,662.50 to $66,000. A staff attorney in a comparable position in the state Senate makes $73,905 a year, according to the chart.
Jennifer Monies, press secretary for Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, disputed some of the House's comparisons.
“Several of the ‘Senate Comparable' salaries on the House document are not apples-to-apples comparisons,” she said.
For example, the salary of the House's chief legal counsel was raised from $94,000 to $101,000. The chart provided by the House indicated a comparable position in the state Senate is paid $113,062.
However, Monies said the highest-paid staff attorney for the Senate is only paid $89,395.20. The Senate staff employee who earns $113,062 a year is the director of legislative operations, which she contends is not a similar position.
The House used that same $113,062 Senate salary as a “comparable” for the $105,000 salaries now paid to the Clerk of the House and to the House parliamentarian/administrator after each received a $9,000 pay boost. Monies claims those aren't similar positions, either.
State Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, said House leaders decided to give House staff members raises before other state employees so the House staff could serve as “a type of laboratory for what we're working on with state employee compensation.”
“As state employee compensation goes forward, hopefully as soon as this session, you're obviously going to see … an emphasis on performance and not necessarily on across the board raises,” Murphey said.
The House would like to develop a system in which customers of state employees as well as supervisors have a say in who should receive the highest pay increases, Murphey said.
House members also would like colleagues of employees who leave to have a say in whether open positions should be left vacant, he said.
If co-workers agree to take on extra work so a position can be abolished, perhaps the salary savings can be split among co-workers and taxpayers, Murphey said.
House leaders released data on staff pay raises Monday in response to a request the Tulsa World made about three weeks ago.
This is the second time in six weeks that news reporters have discovered that state government agencies have granted large raises to certain state employees while most employees were being told raises would have to wait on a compensation study that was finally released Friday.
The Oklahoman disclosed Oct. 28 that several agency directors had been granted raises in the $40,000 to $50,000 range, sparking complaints from numerous state employees.
Murphey said the large pay increases to agency directors came as a surprise to many state lawmakers.
“There were a lot of us who were probably outraged,” he said.
“I think there are a lot of legislators who had no idea that was going to happen and there will be numerous legislators who will want to revisit that,” he said, predicting several bills will be filed to “fix” the problem.
Tom Dunning, communications coordinator for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said he believes it would be fairer for lawmakers to consider salary increases for all state employees at the same time.
Employees of large state agencies like the Department of Human Services and the Department of Corrections tend to lose out when raises are handled piecemeal because it is easier for small agencies to find money for raises in a budget, he said.