BATON ROUGE — Louisiana’s civil service agency is pushing a $46 million plan to boost pay and rework salary scales for rank-and-file state workers, hoping to shrink turnover rates and agency costs associated with lost employees.
The proposal would include an across-the-board 2 percent pay hike for more than 38,000 state government workers and adjust the minimum salary ranges for jobs. In exchange, the annual 4 percent pay raises allowed for workers with positive performance evaluations would be discarded for a different type of sliding scale pay increase system.
Byron Decoteau, Louisiana’s civil service director, said high turnover rates cost agencies millions in lost productivity. The turnover rate in state government was 17 percent last year, according to civil service data that estimated the turnover carried an annual cost of $114 million.
“We want to move to a structure that is more market-competitive,” Decoteau said.
Particularly hard-hit are the corrections, juvenile justice and child welfare agencies, which are having trouble hanging onto front-line workers because of low pay for jobs with hazardous conditions. Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc told the House budget committee that he loses so many correctional officers each year that it creates regular staffing problems for him.
The pay changes would affect classified state workers governed by civil service, not the thousands of political appointees across agencies known as unclassified employees who tend to receive higher salaries than their classified counterparts.
But the proposal’s price tag is a tough ask as Louisiana continues grappling with budget gaps. Republican lawmakers have pushed back against the idea of any raises right now.
“We need to right the ship first, get our budget and our house in line. Once state government can prove to the people back home that we can live within our means, at that point we can talk about looking at plans that involve pay increases. But until that time, it’s inappropriate,” said House Appropriations Committee member Blake Miguez, an Erath Republican.
The Legislature, however, won’t have a say in whether the pay changes will happen.
The plan is expected to go before the Civil Service Commission in June. If approved there, it would go next to Gov. John Bel Edwards. The Democratic governor was briefed on the proposal Friday, but his office said Edwards wants more information before he decides whether he’ll back the approach.
Decoteau said the pay scale rewrite would restore uniformity to similar job categories across agencies, where special carve-outs have been made to try to hang onto workers. He described the plan as a “defensible system that can show the taxpayers we are being prudent with their tax dollars” because it could help the state save money by retaining more of its workforce.
The last overall adjustment to civil service pay scales happened in 2007, under then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
From 2008 until 2016, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal cut the state government workforce by 32 percent through budget reductions and privatization of state services. Health costs for state workers grew, and retirement benefits for new state employees were made less generous. The 4 percent annual salary bumps given to workers who meet certain performance standards have been suspended several times in recent years and unevenly applied in others.
Edwards supports the idea of a pay raise for workers, saying he’d like to spend $24 million on the increases if lawmakers agree to a package of tax bills he’s proposing. But Republican leaders in the House have shown strong resistance to raising taxes.