2.5%: It’s a start

From Executive Director Tim Markham:

Just about six weeks ago, I met with the Governor’s Chief of Staff and Budget Director to set out what we believed was a fair compensation strategy for Colorado’s most valued resource: state employees. I asked for a 6% raise (with additional funding for occupational groups even further behind the market) and a $15/hour minimum wage for all state employees.

This was exactly one day before a negative budget forecast slashed our best hopes at achieving all I set out for the Governor. The forecast showed a gap of nearly $330 million for this fiscal year alone, and a gap of even more than that in FY 2017/18.

On Tuesday, Nov. 1, the Governor’s office released its annual budget request and, as we expected, it reflects the reality of a state still held hostage to TABOR.

September’s negative budget forecast has led to a number of proposed cuts to all areas of the state budget, including transportation, higher education and hospitals. 

Fortunately, one of the few areas where additional money is being invested is state employee compensation.

The Governor has proposed $48.8 million toward a 2.5% across-the-board increase for all classified state workers, $20.8 million toward increases in H/L/D premiums, and to “continue the State’s commitment to cover 80% of these insurance premium costs.”

To keep the Governor accountable to his proposal, sign up to become part of the Rapid Response Team – members willing to take quick action when a new budget developments occur.

Another proposed funding increase is for the Dept. of Youth Corrections to add 96 FTEs to improve security and ensure 24-hour medical care in its facilities.

The additional funding for staffing in DYC facilities is a direct result of successful Partnership between the Department of Human Services and state employees. Colorado WINS members on the DYC Safety Committee, as well as members at the department-wide Partnership table, have been raising awareness of the staffing concerns for the past few years and this is a concrete step DHS and the Governor have taken to improve resident and staff safety at these vulnerable facilities.

Keeping our eye on the prize

A proposal of 2.5% falls quite short of what we have asked for, but if we look at the overall picture of the budget, state employees are actually one of the few “winners” in the Governor’s proposal.

This is the first time an increase for state worker compensation is proposed in a year when the general revenue forecast is in the red. 

That said, we are keeping a close eye on what an increase in H/L/D premiums will mean in terms of real dollars. We will closely monitor the expected increases to ensure they will not eat into the modest raise proposed.

We also have to keep in mind that, like every year, this increase is just a proposal. In a year of cuts, we will have a fight on our hands to make sure we hold on to the 2.5% proposed by the Governor. 

We’ll have to judge how big of a fight based on the outcome of the election, which is why it’s so important to cast your votes for local candidates who have pledged to support state employees if elected.

Once we know the outcome of the elections, we can focus on a few fixes that could free up some money in the General Fund.

  • First, is the fix to the Hospital Provider Fee (HPF) glitch. A bill aiming to reclassify the HPF died in the chambers last year. We will push legislators to bring it back in the 2017 session.
  • We need to fight back against corporations which pay low wages to its employees and force the state to spend $300 million a year to provide health insurance to people who should be getting it through their employer.
  • We have to take on TABOR restrictions and mandatory payouts, piece by piece, to make sure that any surplus in the the budget can be reinvested into quality public services, roads and education.

Some state employees are getting an extra bump

Starting with the Nov. 30 paycheck, direct care staff at Colorado’s Regional Centers who earn below the prevailing market wage will see an increase in their take-home pay.

New hires at Regional Centers will be brought on at prevailing market wages and experienced staff will receive a compression pay increase to the market wage plus an additional increase based on years of service.

This increase comes as a result of Regional Centers struggling to recruit and retain direct care staff. Vacancy rates range from 6% to 50%, depending on which position you look at, and the turnover rate for some direct care positions is as high as 127% in FY 2016.

These raises are just another thing to be proud of this year for DHS Partnership team members.

Thanks to that open line of communication with direct care staff, DHS was able to learn of the root of the problem regarding client care at the Regional Centers, prompting them to implement raises in order to recruit and retain adequate levels of quality staff.

The Dept. of Human Services (DHS) worked to find funding for the increase within its existing spending authority, which means they did not request any additional funds from the legislature to issue the raises.

Additionally, if Amendment 70 passes on Nov. 8, more than 1300 of the state’s lowest paid workers will get a raise (not to mention another nearly half a million Coloradans). A boost in minimum wage across the state will also grow our economy by about $400 million a year and generate extra income for the state’s General Fund.

As we grapple with the fallout of the bad budget forecast, a low across-the-board increase proposal from the Governor, and the results of the elections, one thing is clear: state employee wages are still at least 6% behind the market.

We will have to fight hard this year and next to ensure that the 2.5% raise for state workers gets passed by the legislature, and wherever we can we will fight for more.

If you’re ready for the fight, please make sure to sign up for our Rapid Response Team so that we can show our strength at the capitol when necessary.

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