The continued lack of anything close to adequate funding for public education is one of the major disappointments of the Republican state budget proposal currently making its way through the legislature, but one of its glaring omissions is a big letdown as well.
The budget contains no raise for the state’s some 34,000 employees, who haven’t seen an overall, across-the-board salary increase since 2006 when Brad Henry was governor.
Some agencies have found money for raises in that time period, and Oklahoma Highway Patrol Troopers and some other law enforcements agencies may still be hoping for a raise this session, but it’s clear that the bulk of state employees, with some exceptions, are clearly unappreciated by the Republican-dominated political leadership.
That this has created a morale problem is a huge understatement. I know several state workers, and, though this is anecdotal, most of them believe the current political milieu at the Capitol is hostile and demeaning when it comes to their concerns. These state employees do some of the most important and demanding work in our culture for low pay within underfunded systems, and they get treated with disrespect and suspicion by the GOP leadership.
Gov. Mary Fallin has set the tone by dismissing the idea of a simple cost-of-living raise and instead calling for a study that would compare state employee salaries with salaries in the private sector with the goal of eventually creating a performance-based system for raises and adjustments. In other words, the state will spend $200,000 for what will probably be a biased report that will somehow incredibly show state employees are overpaid.
How can you compare the salary of a child welfare social worker in the field with anyone else’s salary in the private sector?
The hostility is also apparent in the GOP rhetoric of “right-sizing” government and in its efforts to cut taxes for the state’s wealthy while downplaying commitments to provide basic state services and adequate education funding.
Much of this hostility, which is happening in other Republican-dominated state governments as well, can be seen ultimately as a backlash against the nation’s first African American president and carries racist overtones. Unfortunately, Republicans on the national level have also stalemated Congress and in the process have denied President Barack Obama and Democrats any chance of providing more stimulus money to the states.
The national political tension and the Republican-dominance of state government here mean state employees must go years without cost-of-living raises while working in overly demanding situations. They forge on because for many state employees their job is a calling, a way to make a meaningful contribution to the culture here in Oklahoma.
Let’s be clear: State employees deserve raises, not a study.