Tens of thousands of Louisiana state workers won’t be getting pay raises next year.
At the urging of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Civil Service Commission voted 4-1 Thursday to block annual “performance adjustments” for more than 38,000 government workers, called classified employees. The pay raise suspension covers the budget year that begins July 1.
Under civil service guidelines, state workers are usually eligible to receive a raise up to 4 percent a year if they receive a positive annual job evaluation.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief financial adviser, said the state can’t afford the pay hikes as it grapples with continuing budget problems.
“This is not something we like to see happen,” Dardenne told the commission. “We simply do not have the resources right now.”
He said the Edwards administration also doesn’t intend to give raises to the thousands of workers in the Cabinet agencies under its control, political appointees known as unclassified employees.
The administration says Louisiana faces a $600 million shortfall next year that could force cuts across the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, college campuses, K-12 education, safety-net hospitals for the poor and other government services. Lawmakers are meeting in a special session to raise taxes, but they aren’t expected to fill all the gaps.
“I just don’t think it’s fiscally responsible for this commission to approve merit increases in that environment, and I hate to say that,” said Civil Service Commission member Lee Griffin.
In recent years, the commission has twice voted to suspend all pay raises for rank-and-file workers — in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 budget years — at the request of then-Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican. The suspension doesn’t affect pay hikes tied to promotions, other job advancements and increased workloads.
While Civil Service Commission members said they didn’t like blocking the raises, they preferred a uniform system where all workers were treated the same.
Amid years of budget cuts, agencies that rely less heavily on general state tax revenue have been able to give raises while others have withheld the pay hikes. Commission members said they worried the disparities have created a system of “haves and have-nots.”
“We have dedicated state employees who work very, very hard,” said commission member Scott Hughes.
Hughes cited data showing the number of rank-and-file state employees had fallen by 18,618 since 2010. He said while the workforce had dropped by 32 percent, state government continues to provide programs and services.
“Those that are left are having to pick up the slack,” Hughes said.
Hughes noted that, on average, classified state employees have received one or two performance adjustments in the past five years.
He told Dardenne: “I do hope that we’re not back here next year.”
Dardenne said he hoped the awarding of pay raises could resume in later years after the state has stabilized its budget. He said the lack of salary increases can cause morale issues in agencies, increase turnover and force up training costs for new workers.
Voting to block the raises were Griffin, Hughes, John McClure and Chairman David Duplantier. The lone vote against the pay raise suspension came from Curtis “Pete” Fremin, who is the state employee representative on the commission. Two members were absent.