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Politics & Government

Idaho lawmakers can't agree on raises for state workers

The Idaho Statehouse with a cloudy sky background.
Roam Yocham
Boise State Public Radio

Idaho lawmakers are struggling with how to structure a pay raise for state employees in the face of rising inflation.

The legislative committee responsible for recommending any kind of salary bump for state workers punted on a decision until next week.

“I’ve never had this happen before in a committee,” said Sen. Jim Patrick (R-Twin Falls), who co-chairs the Change in Employee Compensation Committee.

Members rejected five different proposals, most by single-vote margins.

Each plan would have raised current pay for all state employees, with the highest suggestion reaching 8%. The proposals would have divided that percentage between base pay raises and a certain percent depending on a worker’s annual evaluation.

Every 1% bump in pay costs taxpayers about $15 million.

Many state workers have long been paid less than those in the private sector doing the same work, though public employees do generally receive more generous benefits.

But Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking (D-Boise) said those only go so far.

“Having been a single parent, I know you can’t feed your family on benefits and you can’t pay your rent,” Ward-Engelking said.

She and a bipartisan group of other lawmakers say state workers need a bigger pay boost than the governor’s recommendation of 5%.

Rep. Lori McCann (R-Lewiston), for example, called for a 7% bump in pay.

Others, like Rep. James Holtzclaw (R-Meridian), who also co-chairs the committee, and Rep. Scott Syme (R-Caldwell) wanted to focus raises proportionately. Those under a certain annual salary would get a bigger pay hike than higher earners under their plans.

Inflation in the Mountain West is the highest in the country at 8.6%.

This debate also comes at a time when state government is struggling – like many employers – to fill open positions and retain workers.

Gov. Brad Little’s budget chief, Alex Adams, said two weeks ago that the state’s vacancy rate stood at 12% – about twice as much as the average.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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