The Joint Budget Committee (JBC) has reached a deal on raises for state employees. Budget writers agreed on a 1.75% across-the-board increase with an additional 0.75% in Merit Pay increases, for a total of 2.5% raise.
While this increase is small, this is the first time in more than a decade that Colorado’s classified state employees will receive a raise in a year when the state is facing a deficit.
The revenue forecast for Fiscal Year 2017/18 comes in at nearly $400 million short of what is needed to cover current levels of spending. The JBC had to make major cuts to a number of spending areas, including K-12 education ($75 million), transportation ($110 million), and hospitals ($264 million from the General Fund, which results in a total loss of more than half a billion dollars, after the federal government matches state funds).
In fact, the $48.8 million for state employee raises was one of the few areas of additional funding in next year’s budget, which also included $4.7 million to hire additional 60 employees in the Div. of Youth Corrections.
For more than 8 months WINS members and our lobbying team put pressure on policymakers, including the Governor, the Joint Budget Committee members, and lawmakers in both houses of the state legislature.
Coming together with a strong plan, a unified voice, and a consistent message is the only reason this raise has been included in the budget. Crossing our fingers and hoping legislators will give us what we’re rightfully owed has never worked. But joining your brothers and sisters in the fight has brought us results year after year.
How did the raise end up in the budget?
In the summer of 2016, WINS members on the Committee on Political Education (COPE), interviewed and eventually endorsed 68 candidates for state positions. Each candidate was asked about their stance on funding raises for state workers.
In September of last year, WINS members gathered and delivered more than 1400 signatures to the Governor, asking him to include a raise for state employees in his budget proposal. We asked him to propose a 6% increase, based on Dept. of Personnel and Administration’s report stating that’s how far, on average, state employee salaries were behind the private sector.
In November, after a dismal revenue forecast, the Governor proposed a 2.5% across-the-board increase for state workers. The forecast predicted not only a shortfall in the upcoming budget year (FY 2017/18), but also a $330 million funding gap for the ongoing year (FY 2016/17) that had to be closed.
As we entered 2017, members gathered at our annual COPE Summit set legislative priorities for the year. Number one on the list was protecting the proposed increase for state workers. Members set up a Rapid Response Team to deal with anything that would threaten the increase.
In late February, as budget negotiations shifted from closing the shortfall for the the current fiscal year, to figure-setting next year’s budget, Colorado WINS members across the state began to increase the pressure on the Joint Budget Committee.
In March, we collected 545 signatures to the JBC, urging them to approve the 2.5% raise. Members from across the state made more than 200 phone calls with the same message to the six JBC members. During Lobby Day (Monday, March 20), 50 state employees talked directly to their state Senators and Representatives about approving a budget that includes a raise for state employees. We also delivered the petition signatures to the JBC offices.
The past few days, our lobby team has spent late nights at the Capitol, trying to get the JBC to agree to a deal on state worker raises. On Wednesday, while WINS members placed calls to their local Senators, the JBC came to an agreement: 1.75% across-the-board increase and an additional 0.75% in Merit Pay.
Now that the JBC has officially closed the budget, including the state employee raises, we have a few people to thank. Specifically we thank the Governor and his office, Senate President Grantham and House Speaker Duran for their steadfast support of state employees, their families, and their communities, which depend on state jobs. We also have to thank all six JBC members (Sens. Lambert, Moreno, and Lundberg, and Reps. Hamner, Rankin, and Young), who voted unanimously in support of including the state employee raises in this tough budget.
But had it not been for the steady drumbeat of Colorado WINS members and other state employees from across Colorado, we would have never had the strength to put pressure on the legislature to approve this raise.
The JBC finalized the budget on Thursday and it will be introduced in the Senate on Monday. That means we’ve only completed step 1 of the process and will be monitoring closely anything that might happen the state Senate and House, which must both approve the budget before it moves to the Governor’s office for a signature.
I’m proud to say that our legislators recognize the value of public servants. Your unified actions had a resounding effect on this fight and led us to accomplish something that hasn’t been done in more than a decade: a raise for state employees in a fiscal year marred by a budget deficit.
That’s definitely something we can all be proud of.
To be clear, state employee salaries are still far behind the private sector, which means the state salary shortfall will continue to grow. That means our next raise fight will begin sooner than later.
If you have any questions about the raise, how we got here, or how to get involved, please don’t hesitate to email me.
Colorado WINS Executive Director