Raising Raise Concerns

Image of Oklahoma State Capitol

I agree with the Oklahoma Democratic Party chairperson that House Speaker T.W. Shannon should release an “internal study” that was used to give some staff members raises.

It was recently revealed that Shannon, a Republican from Lawton, has approved more than $280,000 in raises for House staffers that ranged from 2 percent to 30 percent. The largest raises went to House attorneys. A Shannon spokesperson said the raises came after an internal study showed the House was having “a problem retaining employees.”

Most rank-and-file state employees have gone without a raise since 2006, and there was some immediate backlash when the raises were revealed this week.

I’m not against any state employee, including House staffers, receiving raises. In fact, I’m in favor of immediate raises for ALL state employees, but Shannon’s actions seem to indicate that there are different sets of rules when it comes to raising state workers’ salaries.

The question becomes if agency heads or political leaders can just unilaterally raise salaries for state employees. If so, then why not just immediately hike salaries for the thousands of state employees who have gone without raises for so long? Retention is a problem at many state agencies, not just among House staffers.

In a statement issued Wednesday, ODP Chairperson Wallace Collins called on Shannon to release a copy of the internal study, saying, "The message Speaker Shannon is sending to teachers, social workers, correctional officers, and highway patrol is that they don't matter as much as his personal staff of attorneys. Dollars do not stretch as far as they used to and our leadership needs to compensate for things like inflation."

Obviously, Collins is trying to score political points here, but the fact remains that morale is extremely low for many state employees who have gone without raises for several years and have seen their purchasing power decline because of basic cost of living increases. What specific information did Shannon use to give out the raises? That’s a fair question, and Collins is right to ask it publicly.

Some agency heads also recently received astronomical raises. I posted about that here.

A compensation study about salaries has recommended 2 percent to 3 percent raises for state workers at a cost of some $41 million. But the study also claimed state workers have more generous benefits than their peers in neighboring states and in the private sector. It also recommended against across-the-board raises.

Gov. Mary Fallin has warned that next year’s budget could be stagnant, and now monthly state revenues are not meeting predictions. Where is the money for the recommended raises going to come from?

Caught in the middle of all this are social workers, correction officers and troopers, among others, who do some of the most important and difficult jobs in our culture. All state workers deserve and need a raise or “salary adjustment,” not just House staffers and agency heads.

Perhaps, Oklahoma’s Republican leaders could use the House’s internal study, if it’s made public, as a blueprint for salary hikes for all state employees, but that’s probably unlikely.