The Oklahoma Transportation Commission has voted to boost base salaries for lower-tier positions at the Department of Transportation, costing up to $7.2 million by 2014. At the Department of Corrections, officials are seeking pay raises for correctional officers, whose starting salary is $11.83 an hour.
Officials at several state agencies have noted that it's harder to retain employees because private-sector pay, particularly in the booming oil field, is much better. Oil-field workers can earn as much as $25 an hour, while information technicians are paid as much as $20,000 more by oil companies than by the state. Last year's turnover rate at ODOT was 15 percent.
We don't dispute some state jobs may warrant a pay increase, particularly if it ultimately improves public safety. But from a 20,000-feet view, this is a good problem to have! The last thing anyone should want is for state government jobs to be preferable to private-sector employment. Every dollar going to state salaries is a dollar taken out of productive use in the private sector.
When government jobs become more lucrative than comparable employment in the marketplace, it creates perverse incentives impeding business growth and job creation. In other parts of the country, the discrepancy between government employees and other citizens can be truly jarring. In New York City, school janitors have made as much as $166,000 per year. In Newport Beach, Calif., two lifeguard battalion chiefs made more than $200,000, while full-time lifeguards earned six figures after accounting for base pay, overtime and benefits, according to The Orange County Register.
In comparison, Oklahoma lawmakers are expected to consider instituting performance appraisals with the goal of ensuring state positions are paid 80 percent of comparable private-sector salaries. This is a reasonable goal that will help stabilize the government workforce without making it an unaffordable financial burden on all other Oklahoma workers.