Will GOP Leaders Use Compensation Study To Change Pensions?

Image of Oklahoma State Capitol

I find it interesting that a study has found that state workers here enjoy better benefits than their peers in this region of the country.

That conclusion, however it was calculated, fits rather conveniently with an effort by Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller to change the state’s pension plans from defined-benefit systems with regular payments to 401(k)-styled systems while reducing state contributions for new hires.

The compensation study, conducted by Kenning Consulting and Hay Group for $200,000, also found that Oklahoma lags in pay for state workers by 6.4 percent when compared to other states and 21.7 percent when compared to the public sector.

But it was the “benefits” comparison that caught my eye. According to information about the study released by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), state workers here get 24.3 percent more in benefits than other state workers in nearby states and 18 percent more than the private sector.

These percentages, plus a recommendation by the study’s authors to “reinvest benefits resources in employee pay and encourage more benefits cost sharing between the employer and employee,” give Fallin and Miller more political ammunition to seek changes in the state’s pensions.

It also remains to be seen if state workers will receive a raise anytime soon since the study also recommends that the state “not legislatively mandate across-the-board pay increases for all employees.” It makes the overall claim that overall state workers compensation is “even with comparable state governments.” How do you squeeze a raise out of that finding?

Many state workers have gone without a raise for several years. Some state agency heads, however, received astronomical raises recently. It’s part of standard conservative methodology to reward those at the top while leaving rank-and-file employees behind, whether in the public or private sector.

Here’s the news release from OMES about the study. It didn’t detail how the percentages were calculated or what actually constitutes a benefit. Read between the lines, the study’s recommendations do, however, fit perfectly with conservative ideology, especially when it comes to supporting merit pay, ending longevity pay and cutting benefits.

The bottom line is that this study will probably be used in an attempt to cut retirement benefits, at least for future state employees, and to deny state workers decent across-the-board raises.