MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

December 6, 2013

Study: State workers have low pay but good benefits


Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY — State workers in Oklahoma are paid less than their counterparts both in other states and the private sector, but their health and retirement benefits are more generous, according to a state-commissioned study released Friday.

Gov. Mary Fallin and GOP legislative leaders requested the $200,000 study, which was overseen by a working group that included officials from the governor’s office, Legislature, state agencies and the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.

Two independent consulting firms, Kenning Consulting and Hay Group, conducted the study.

The study shows that when salary and benefits are combined, the total compensation of state employees is about the same as those from comparable states and more than 7 percent below the private market.

“Gov. Fallin is serious about working with legislators to address the findings of this study, particularly the imbalance between employee pay and benefits,” Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said. “She also hopes to act in the next legislative session to provide a pay increase to state employees who are being paid the furthest below market value.”

The study showed some state managers, auditors, comptrollers and attorneys were among those whose salaries most significantly trailed those in the private sector.

The recommendations in the study include: appropriating $41 million next year to help fund pay hikes for targeted workers and a performance-based pay initiative, making changes to employee benefit packages, and discouraging the use of across-the-board pay increases or salaries that are covered under state statute.

The president of a group that represents state workers says the study shows it’s time for legislators to get serious about increasing state employee salaries.

“State workers already know that their salaries are low and this study confirms it,” said OPEA President Jess Callahan, a social worker in Choctaw County. “For the state to provide necessary services, this must be a legislative priority now and in the future.”

The study also could lend support to Fallin and other GOP leaders’ push to change the retirement plan for newly hired state workers. They want it to shift from the current traditional defined-benefit plan to a 401(k)-style defined-contribution retirement account.