“Business model needed in this government area” (Our Views, Feb. 1) said state government should be run like a private-sector business and that “state salaries may be lower than comparable private-sector positions, but benefits tend to be more lavish.”
State jobs are lagging so far below the market that many agencies face a huge staffing crisis. For example, state veterans centers, charged with caring for our military heroes, face turnover rates between 30 percent and 40 percent. Correctional facilities are consistently being operated with 30 percent less staff than what's required. And the workers who are there deal with mandatory overtime, which can compromise public safety and be a huge emotional burden on personnel.
The staffing situations at agencies are at a critical status and must be improved to ensure those facilities stay operational. And these are for core functions of government, not agencies perceived as being unnecessary to the business of the state. As for the “one-time bonus,” the request is a performance payment, meant to reward state workers who meet or exceed standards from their most recent evaluation. It's not across the board.
In 2008, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association requested a comprehensive market-based study. Ever since, the study has been at the top of our legislative agenda. The fact that Gov. Mary Fallin is making this a priority now is great news.
But as for running the state like a business, what business allows employee turnover to reach epidemic levels? Businesses like that are known to go out of business. This instability has led to possibly reaching $80 million in state funds just to keep staffing levels afloat. Since 2009, more than 3,800 state jobs have been lost due to attrition, reductions and voluntary buyouts. Because of those changes, the state will save approximately $200 million in fiscal year 2013.
With 3,800 fewer employees, those remaining are doing more work for the same money. And that's actually less money than a few years ago due to outside circumstances such as inflation and a change in the benefit allowance that will ding employees as much as $1,356 annually.
The OPEA agrees that times have changed and past models of compensating state employees are no longer tenable. Even so, many reforms need to take place to ensure the long-term viability of being a state employee in Oklahoma.
If not, a future with constant turnover and loss of institutional knowledge will only increase, making state service function less productive. We cannot, as citizens of this great state, allow that to happen.
Zearley is executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.