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March 19, 2014

State employee pay proposal stalls in Miss. Senate

MERIDIAN — JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi senators on Tuesday rejected a proposal to give a $1,000 pay raise to all state employees, but a top budget writer said legislators still might consider a raise for lower-paid government workers.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, proposed the across-the-board pay raise, saying employees' paychecks have remained stagnant while their insurance and retirement expenses have increased in recent years. He said caregivers in mental institutions, custodians who clean state buildings and workers who cut grass on public property are making modest salaries and are often overlooked.

"It's so much fun to poke fun at government.... But the folks who are doing these jobs need to be rewarded," Bryan said.

His proposal failed when 27 senators voted against it and 24 voted for it. The split was mostly along party lines, with opposition from Republicans who hold the majority of Senate seats and support mostly coming from Democrats.

When the Republican-controlled House was considering early versions of budget bills in February, Rep. Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, tried repeatedly to add a $1,000 state employee pay raise. Those efforts also fell short.

The proposals from Bryan and Stringer would not have given raises to legislators.

The state Personnel Board oversees about 31,000 government employees for a wide variety of agencies, and when lawmakers discuss state employee pay raises, they are talking about those workers. The Personnel Board does not oversee elementary and secondary teachers, professors and instructors of community colleges and universities or employees of the governor's office or the legislative branch. Legislators are working on a separate plan to give pay raises to teachers, though details are still not clear.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Eugene "Buck" Clarke, R-Hollandale, said Tuesday 28,785 of the 31,000 workers overseen by the Personnel Board have received some form of pay raise in the past four years. In some cases, they've earned a higher academic degree or professional certification that made them eligible for more money. In other cases, legislators gave agency directors the authority to move money around within a budget and the directors used that power to give raises to some workers.

Clarke said he's asking the state Department of Finance and Information for details about workers who haven't received raises in the past four years.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Clarke said there's a chance that as legislators work on a final budget plan in the next two weeks, they could include some money to give raises to workers who have lower salaries.

"That's the first bunch I want to look at," Clarke said.

The state's 2015 budget year begins July 1.

 

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