By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
Alabama’s state employees are the unsung heroes who keep our state running. But they have also been neglected and left out for far too long. If Gov. Bentley can find a way to give his cabinet and staff members 80 percent pay raises, surely we can find a way to give our state employees four percent!
State employees – who do everything from law enforcement, handling child abuse and adoption cases, maintaining our roads and bridges, solving crimes in forensic labs, and hundreds of other jobs – have not received a pay increase in nearly a decade, even though the cost of living has shot up more than 10 percent!
Imagine if you had not had a pay raise since 2006.
In fact, state employees have seen their pay shrink as their premiums have gone up and they have been asked to contribute more for their retirement and health benefits.
Currently, we have over 30,000 state employees. These men and women make sacrifices every day to ensure our state is running as smoothly as possible. But we ask them do this without giving them a fair wage. The current pay disparity is embarrassing. We have appointed officials making six figures, while state troopers who risk their lives are barely scraping by.
State employees have been unfairly left out of pay raises for the last several years, which is why I offered a proposal earlier this week that would give state employees a 4 percent pay increase. Unfortunately, the legislature didn’t agree and voted that raise down.
It is embarrassing when Gov. Bentley gives select members of his cabinet and staff an 81 percent pay raise, but we can’t even swing a single percent raise for state employees! When all you hear about is how busted our state’s budget is, the folks at the top get a $73,000 while our state employees get left out in the cold.
It isn’t just that state leaders aren’t interesting in giving state employees a fair wage—members of the state senate are going threatening other senators to apologize for supporting a state employee pay raise.
Inside Alabama Politics reported this week that state senate leadership threatened Sen. Cam Ward that he would no longer serve as chairman of the Judiciary Committee if he did not apologize to the Republican Senate Caucus for “embarrassing” them. What did he do to embarrass them? In late February, he offered an amendment to give state employees a 2 percent raise, not to exceed $10 million. That amendment forced the senators to go on the record with their vote against giving state employees this modest pay raise.
I guess if I voted year after year against giving the state employees in my district a raise, I’d be a little embarrassed, too! But is it not also embarrassing that all of Gov. Bentley’s appointed cabinet members are making six-figure incomes while state troopers, correctional officers, social workers and teachers are barely making a competitive wage. State social workers are being paid as much as $15,000 below the national average.
Our state social workers who help with adoption services, abusive family situations and child support, among many other things, are taking on a great deal of responsibility for as much as $15,000 less than the national salary average? That is what is truly embarrassing!
If my fellow legislators can’t agree on giving state employees a pay raise, we should at least be able to agree that state employees’ benefits packages should be fully funded. By fully funding their benefits, we avoid any more increases in insurance and retirement costs that chip away at their existing paychecks. By doing this, all state employees have something to gain, whereas a pay raise benefits the higher paid state employees more so than those in entry-level positions. Fully funding state employee benefits packages also helps retirees, since retirees would probably be left out of a pay raise, just like retired educators were this year.
State employees provide a critical service to our state, and it is critical that we support them in return! These men and women provide necessary services each and every day. From courthouses and public safety, to DHR and health department officials; from the Emergency Management Agency and emergency responders to forensic scientists who help solve murders and other violent crimes; from the Department of Senior Services to the Veterans Affairs office, state employees are a valuable and essential part of our state. As legislators we need to do right by these hardworking Alabamians and give them the pay raise they deserve!
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader of the Alabama House of Representatives.