Pay raises make up more than half of a $500,000 budget increase for the fiscal year that begins July 1 for examiners working for an Oklahoma agency that regulates consumer credit sales and consumer loans.
The pay raises are targeted for the 18 examiners for the state Credit Department, said the agency's administrator, Scott Lesher. None of the executive staff is to get a pay raise in the 2014 fiscal year, according to the $3.2 million budget unanimously approved Wednesday by the commission that oversees the agency.
The $293,000 in raises, which if equally applied would come out to about $16,280 per examiner, comes after the agency approved $100,000 in raises last year for 10 employees and at a time lawmakers balked at granting across-the-board increases for the state's approximately 34,000 employees.
Lawmakers actually supported pay raises for state troopers this year, but agreed to honor Gov. Mary Fallin's request to hold back until a comprehensive study could be done comparing salaries and benefits of Oklahoma's state employees with those in the private sector and other states. The study is underway and should be completed in time for next year's session, which starts in February.
The vast majority of funding for the Consumer Credit Department comes from fees and fines paid by various lenders. It is appropriated about $31,700 in state money, which is used to pay for consolidated information technology services.
In this fiscal year, it is expected to collect about $4 million from pawn brokers, rent-to-own companies, mortgage brokers, health spas and precious metals dealers. Of that, 20 percent, or $800,000, is sent to the state's general fund.
Lesher said the pay raises for examiners are crucial to bring them up to close to the regional average in order to help win accreditation from the Conference of State Banking Supervisors Banking Services. Examiners are classified employees and are grouped in three levels; their annual salaries range from $30,000 to $58,400.
“We've already lost examiners in this past year to other states, two simply because there was more money in these other states for the same job,” he said.
Although state workers haven't received an across-the-board increase since October 2006, some employees have received pay increases through promotions or changes in pay grade.
Nine of the agency's examiners are in the lowest pay grade, and the goal is for them to advance to the next level, which would result in a pay raise, Lesher said. Six examiners are in the midlevel grade and three are at the senior level.
“We're actually considering a fourth level,” he said.
If the agency is accredited, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will recognize it as being able to enforce federal regulations and cooperate with federal regulators, he said.
“Everything we're doing … is to make sure that at the end of the day state regulators who live in Oklahoma are regulating our industry and are regulating the laws the way our Legislature passes them,” Lesher said.
Travel expenses are increased by $180,000 in the 2014 fiscal year budget mostly because of increased licensing and regulating duties assigned the agency during the past legislative session, Lesher said. Legislation that takes effect Nov. 1 puts the Consumer Credit Department in charge of regulating and licensing mortgage lenders, many of whom are out of state, he said. The legislation calls for out-of-state lenders to reimburse the agency for examiners' travel expenses.