Idaho legislative panel votes to give state employee workers 3% hike

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BOISE, Idaho — For a second year, a joint legislative committee has unanimously supported increasing wages for Idaho's 17,000 state workers in fiscal year 2016.

The bipartisan Change in Employee Compensation Committee proposed awarding a 3 percent pay boost on a merit basis. This means, however, not everyone is guaranteed a raise.

"My preference is that we give pay raises based on merits," said state Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier. "That way, the directors have the flexibility to reward those employees where it's appropriate."

The recommendation —estimated to cost nearly $30 million— now needs full legislative approval. But it is already expected to be supported by the governor.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter did not back employee raises last year, saying it wasn't right time. This year, Otter has since changed his mind as tax revenues have steadily increased.

The committee spent the first half of the meeting largely discussing how much state employees should be paid and how much their wages should be bumped. Two Democratic lawmakers suggested separate proposals that would have nearly eliminated state workers from being allowed to make the federal wage.

"Why don't we make a statement. It's not changing policy, but it is signaling we have low wages," said state Democratic Sen. Dan Schmidt of Moscow.

The motions failed to pass after being shot down by every Republican member.

State employees experienced pay cuts for five years straight since the recession in 2008, including through furloughs, even though state law dictates that public salaries must remain competitive with market rates. Employees got a 2 percent raise last year, but only half of it was permanent.

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