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Pay raises come for some at Oklahoma's state agencies

It's been a dismal year for many state employees, who have seen salary freezes, furloughs or layoffs. But some employees at executive agencies have had raises or promotions.
BY PAUL MONIES Published: December 5, 2010

©Copyright 2010, The Oklahoman

Thousands of state employees have gone through layoffs, furloughs or salary freezes during the budget crunch, but 130 employees at executive agencies have had raises in the last year.

Almost one-third of those raises came in the past few months at agencies whose elected heads will be leaving office in January, according to an analysis of state payroll records by The Oklahoman.

The raises range from increases of 3 percent for an audit supervisor at the Auditor and Inspector's office to more than 40 percent for an executive assistant at the state Education Department.

Overall, 130 employees at eight elected agencies received raises from October 2009 to October 2010, the analysis found. Thirty-eight employees had raises since the beginning of the state's fiscal year in July.

“It appears to me that the front-line employees are not the ones receiving the greater benefits on the raises,” said Sterling Zearley, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.

“Right now is not a good time to be doing that because we're looking at maybe additional furloughs or reductions in force in this budget cycle.”

Most of the raises came in unclassified positions. They are not subject to the same rules for salary increases as classified positions under the state's merit protection system.

Officials at the agencies said some of the raises were promotions to the positions of departing employees.

Others said their agencies were below the number of employees authorized by the Legislature and they were being prudent with state money.

“We're doing more with less while still addressing pay parity issues, both within our own agency and in comparison to other state agencies and the private sector,” said Trey Davis, spokesman for Steve Burrage, the outgoing Democratic state auditor. Burrage will be succeeded by Republican Gary Jones in January.

The auditor's office employs 112 people, below the 140 positions it was authorized for this fiscal year. Last year, the agency had authorization for 169 employees, Davis said.

Pay raises went to 49 employees at the auditor's office, according to the payroll analysis. Davis said those who received raises had more responsibilities, gained skills or tackled more challenging projects.

“This action is necessary for (state auditor and inspector) to remain functional and to maintain staffing levels,” Davis said. “Other agencies have occasion to work with our auditors and, in the past, these agencies consistently made job offers to our personnel because their salary structure for auditors was considerably higher.”

‘Right-sizing' agencies

On the campaign trail, Republican Gov.-elect Mary Fallin talked about “right-sizing” state government, including looking at agency consolidation and performance. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Brad Henry set up a task force in 2007 to study state employee compensation. One of its top recommendations was an examination of classified and unclassified positions at executive agencies.

“Data collection processes are less uniform in unclassified service positions, resulting in inability to compare salary to market and inconsistent use and application of job descriptions,” the report stated.

Henry included money in his 2009 executive budget for an independent consulting firm to perform the study, but it wasn't funded by lawmakers.

Zearley, who served on the task force along with private industry and government representatives, said the last statewide pay increase came in 2006. Employees under merit protection can get raises if they meet standardized skill requirements or market conditions.

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