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State workers get first raise in four years

Colo. Republican says more accurate information needed

DENVER – Colorado government employees will see their first pay increases in four years when they get their latest paychecks Wednesday, a sign the state is continuing its economic recovery.

Lawmakers approved a 2 percent pay raise for state employees when they passed the budget this spring, reversing a trend where workers saw their salaries remain static and went through furloughs to tighten the budget. Although the raises went into effect July 1, state workers will see the increase reflected for the first time on their end-of-the-month paycheck. Lawmakers also budgeted for merit raises, meaning some employees will see pay increases as high as 4.4 percent.

Republicans who opposed the increase have raised concerns about how the state compares salaries for its workers to those in the private sector – a debate that will likely continue for months to come. The latest comparison is due out Thursday.

The budget lawmakers passed includes $48.1 million for the 2 percent increases and other salary adjustments, and $21.4 million for merit pay raises.

“It’s been a long dry spell so it’s definitely a welcome addition,” said Skip Miller, an information technology professional for the state at the Colorado School of Mines. Miller, 56, said he’s worked part-time delivering newspapers during the time he hasn’t gotten a raise.

“It’s been tough. Not only did we not receive any kind of increase at all, but at the same time our health care was actually increasing,” he said. “It was a double-whammy on state employees.”

The state’s largest public employees union, Colorado WINS, called the increase overdue and said it would benefit the economy.

“When state workers have more money in their pockets, it means they have more money to spend on everyday items in their local community,” Scott Wasserman, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Colorado Springs Republican Sen. Kent Lambert, one of six lawmakers on the budget-writing Joint Budget Committee, opposed the increase, saying the state has not had accurate information measuring government salaries to comparable positions in the private sector. He said state workers should not be paid “more than the private sector or vice versa.”

“It shouldn’t be out of balance. But I want it to be fair, and I want the data to be accurate,” he said.

Lambert and other Republicans have pointed to a state audit from May that criticized the Department of Personnel and Administration’s methodology for measuring state salaries with the market. While the audit concluded that state salaries lagged behind the private sector, the report said salaries would need to be increased by 5.5 percent to achieve prevailing market compensation, not the 7.2 percent calculated by DPA.

“State salaries are behind where they need to be in order to be competitive. I think the question is just by how much,” said Democratic Rep. Claire Levy, another state budget writer who disagrees with the Republicans’ objections to the salary survey.

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