/Legislators grapple with how to fund state employee pay raise as budget demands mount

Legislators grapple with how to fund state employee pay raise as budget demands mount

Nonprofit Mississippi News If Mississippi’s approximately 25,000 state employees will receive a raise, it may be necessary to find additional revenue at the end. This would be their first pay increase since 2007. Buck Clarke (R-Hollanddale), Senate Appropriations Chair, stated Tuesday that “Hopefully we’ll get a revenue boost in March” at the end of the legislative sessions to provide a raise. This was as the House and Senate began the process of creating a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. It will be used for public safety, transportation, health care, education, and other agencies. Legislative leaders often meet at the conclusion of the session to discuss the latest economic outlook and raise or lower the revenue estimate for next fiscal year. It could be used to increase the state employee’s salary if that estimate is raised. John Read (R-Gautier), House Appropriations Chair, stated that he and other leaders still need to decide if and how much a raise for teachers and state employees can be achieved. According to the Mississippi Personnel Board information, the average state employee salary is $37,911 which compares to $49,799. Based on 2017 data compiled by National Education Association, Mississippi teachers were last in the nation for teacher salaries at $42,925. Average salaries in neighboring states are $49,698 per year. Already, the Senate approved a $25 million raise in teacher pay – an average $500 per teacher – for the next fiscal year. Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton) has stated that any teacher raise must be accompanied by a raise for state employees. John Hines (D-Greenville), who was not content to wait for the end of session, proposed Tuesday an amendment to provide a $1,000 annual increase for three years to state employees. Hines’ attempt was defeated by the Republican leadership. Hines claimed that there was enough revenue in reserve to pay the raise. Hines stated, “This is a step towards improving the quality life for people who provide services.” Despite state revenue collections improving in recent months, legislators are still struggling to find the funds needed to meet all needs. The legislature has already committed $61 million to the general fund revenue to support the state’s retirement system. This includes state employees, public school teachers, and local governmental employees. The funds will be provided by local government officials to support their part of the retirement system. Clarke also stated that additional funds are required for Medicaid and Child Protection Services. This is a federal court order to improve California’s foster care system. The legislative leadership appears to be seeking to fund all state agencies at the same level, except for the funds for the retirement system, Child Protection Services, and Medicaid. Mississippi Adequate Education program, which funds the majority of the state’s contribution to the operation of local school districts, would also be subject to the level funding. The 2018 Legislature underfunded MAEP by $240 million for the current schoolyear. Many members of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday stressed the importance of a raise for state employees. Concerns were raised that low salaries were causing agencies to have difficulty filling positions in the Department of Corrections, the driver’s licence bureaus and the state medical examiners. Senator Walter Michel, R.Idgeland, stated that Corrections officers often make $11 an hour and are moving on to better-paying jobs. Simmons stated that it was a matter of public safety because inmates are not properly guarded._x000D