, Muskogee, OK

March 2, 2014

House GOP seeks to connect pension revamp, state worker pay increases

Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Members of the Oklahoma House have urged the Senate and Gov. Mary Fallin to commit to funding targeted pay increases for state employees before signing off on a pension overhaul bill, according to one state lawmaker.

Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, is the author of a measure to revamp the state’s employee compensation system. Osborn said her plan will force lawmakers to make hard financial decisions in other areas.

“I think the dollars are there,” Osborn said.

Osborn has the support of House Speaker Jeff Hickman of Fairview, The Oklahoman reported Sunday.

“I don’t think we can simply reform the pension plans now and tell our state employees, ‘We’ll get to the salary issue later,’” Hickman said. The Republican added that he would like to see House members consider the pay raise bill and pension bill one right after the other on the House floor.

Osborn said the goal of her bill is to raise state employee salaries to 90 percent of the private market within four years by setting aside an amount equal to 3 percent of the previous fiscal year’s payroll costs for salary adjustments each year.

Oklahoma state employees are paid about 20 percent less than the private market, according to the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.

Three percent of last year’s payroll would amount to about $40 million a year, according to the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

The plan is not to give a 3 percent raise to every employee, however. Instead, Osborn said she wants to see targeted raises each year, starting with the most underpaid employees, who would receive raises much higher than 3 percent while others wait their turn.

Osborn said public safety employees, corrections employees and some Department of Human Services jobs should be first in line.

Under the state’s current defined benefit pension system, employees who retire after working at least 7 1/2 years for the state are promised a set amount, depending on their salaries and years of service.