Colorado Recommends Millions in Raises for State Workers
By Dustin Hurst | Colorado Watchdog
A new report released by the state says Colorado needs to boost compensation for its more than 32,000 workers to catch up with private sector pay, but one voice is crying foul.
The report released by the Department of Personnel and Administration earlier this month says the state needs to hike worker pay by 3.8 percent to stay competitive with the private sector. The report, an annual study by the agency, urged Colorado to pitch in more to cover worker health and dental costs.
“It is critical that the state make a significant investment into its workforce,” wrote DPA Director Kathy Nesbitt. “State employees are the cornerstone for ensuring Colorado citizens and visitors receive efficient, effective and elegant services.”
The report, an annual document released by DPA, comes just months after state lawmakers approved a 2 percent across-the-board pay hike for state workers, plus up to an additional 2.4 percent in merit pay raises. The package will cost the state more than $69 million this year.
There’s no word on just how much the proposed 3.8-percent raise would cost the state, but the tally would be significant.
Linda Gorman, a free market economist with the Denver-based Independence Institute, told Colorado Watchdog this week the report raises some red flags in her mind.
“Just because salaries outside of government are going up does not mean that government can afford to pay more,” she said via email. “Suppose tax revenues are flat?”
Legislative Republicans, who opposed the pay hike legislation earlier this year, maintain that any raises will likely depend on how much cash lawmakers have on hand next year.
Proponents of the raise complain state workers endured four years without raises due to a slumping economy — and now it’s time to catch up. A report released about a year ago said the state would need to increase its worker pay by 7.2 percent to match the private sector.
Republicans commissioned their own study and found the gap between private and public sector pay was about 5.5 percent.
When legislators convene in Denver next January, they’ll likely have an extra billion dollars to spend compared to 2013. Even though the Capitol will be flush with cash, Gorman wonders if a raise for state workers should be a top priority.
“The road budget has been underfunded for years — let’s see, salary increase or road repairs?” she asked.
Gov. John Hickenlooper hasn’t yet taken a position. He supported the raise package pushed in the 2013 session. Eric Brown, the governor’s spokesman, told Colorado Watchdog that Hickenlooper will take the report into consideration.
“We will certainly consider the report as we begin work on next year’s budget,” Brown wrote in an email. “It’s too early to know whether a pay raise will be included in the proposed budget or not.”
A state-by-state study conducted earlier this year by the Pew Center revealed that Colorado’s state worker salaries averaged $1,500 more than private sector employees, a gap that’s shrunk in recent years. The study revealed that in 2009 the average state worker’s salary topped the average private worker’s pay by about $4,400.
The Pew report did note that state workers are generally better-trained and more tenured than private sector workers.
Contact Hurst at Dustin@Watchdog.org
Update 8/14/13: The original headline said “Colorado asks for millions in raises for state workers.” Colorado Watchdog amended the headline to more accurately reflect the nature of the report.