The Advocate editorial board speaks with Gov. John Bel Edwards in his 4th floor office during opening day at the Louisiana legislature Monday April 10, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.

ADVOCATE file PHOTO BY BILL FEIG < p>

Thousands of Louisiana state employees will see boosted paychecks, under a reworked pay scale approved by Gov. John Bel Edwards that carries a $48 million annual price tag but aims to reduce the millions lost to high turnover in critical, front-line jobs.

Louisiana's Department of Civil Service, which pushed the pay scale redesign, announced Thursday that Edwards had signed off on the plan. Financing for it was included in the state operating budget that begins Saturday.

Edwards said state worker pay hikes have too often been "inconsistent and unfair" in recent, tight budget years, with some agencies suspending the annual increases given to workers who meet performance standards and others continuing to grant them.

"State employees, including our law enforcement and child welfare workers who have been overworked and underpaid for too long, will see a modest increase under this plan," the Democratic governor said in a statement. "Overall, this will result in a more efficient pay system that saves Louisiana money."

Byron Decoteau, Louisiana's civil service director, said high turnover rates cost agencies millions in lost productivity. The turnover rate in state government was 17 percent last year, according to civil service data estimating that carried an annual cost of $114 million for the state.

Particularly hard-hit are the corrections, juvenile justice and child welfare agencies, which are having trouble hanging onto front-line workers because of low pay for jobs with hazardous conditions.

The newly redesigned pay scales take effect Jan. 1, when 38,000 rank-and-file state employees will receive an across-the-board, 2 percent pay hike.

A day later, 6,200 of those workers will get an additional salary bump of varying amounts because of adjustments to the minimum salary ranges for jobs. Employees getting that extra increase include entry-level prison guards, probation officers and child welfare workers.

The price tag is about $15 million for the six months of pay changes enacted in the new 2017-18 budget year starting Saturday. But that will grow to $48 million when annualized a year later, adding new costs for agencies at a time when lawmakers also will be grappling with a more than $1 billion budget gap.

Some Republican lawmakers raised concerns about the pay hikes, but the Legislature agreed to the increases when it approved the budget.

The pay changes will affect classified state workers governed by civil service, not many thousands of political appointees across agencies known as unclassified employees who tend to receive higher salaries than their classified counterparts. The last overall adjustment to civil service pay scales happened in 2007, under then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Also changing under the new pay plan, the annual 4 percent pay raises allowed for workers with positive performance evaluations will be discarded for a different type of sliding scale pay increase system.