TALLAHASSEE -- For the first time in seven years, Florida lawmakers have agreed to give state employees automatic salary increases, ending a bleak stretch for a 160,000-member workforce that has weathered cutbacks, pay reductions and slashed benefits.
House and Senate budget negotiators agreed Saturday to pay those making less than $40,000 annually a $1,400 across-the-board increase. Those making more than $40,000 annually will receive a $1,000 raise. On top of that, about 35 percent of state workers would get merit bonuses of up to $600.
In all, for those 70 percent of employees who make less than $40,000, Saturday’s deal could mean a compensation bump of between 5 and 10 percent.
“You can’t make up for all of the damage of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression in one year,” said Doug Martin, a lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 50,000 employees. “But this is very significant. This is very meaningful. This is a good day for state employees.”
The deal was struck between House and Senate Republican leaders as they negotiate next year’s $74 billion budget, which goes into effect July 1. The raises, however, don’t kick in until three months later.
“Both (the House and Senate) wanted to recognize the fact that our co-workers in state government throughout Florida work hard every day, and we appreciate their contribution to state government and their fellow citizens,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart. “As our revenue picture has improved, both (Senate President Don Gaetz) and House Speaker (Will Weatherford) wanted to show that in a tangible way through a salary increase.”
The proposed hike is similar to an automatic pay raise of $1,200 that Gov. Rick Scott proposed for all state workers. If lawmakers don’t change their minds, it will be included in the final budget due Tuesday. Both chambers will vote on the budget Friday, the final day of the 2013 session.
The raises will cost about $200 million. An additional $10.3 million is proposed in raises for Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers and staff. Those 4,000 employees in law enforcement will get the same automatic pay raises that state workers do but will receive an automatic 3 percent increase with a 2 percent raise for those with five years experience.
“We’ve had an issue with state law enforcement,” Negron said, explaining the difference in compensation. “We spend a lot of money training the troopers, then they get hired away by local governments.”
The House and Senate are still negotiating how to pay $480 million in raises for the state’s 172,000 teachers. So far, they want the state’s 67 school districts to come up with their own merit-based system for distributing the raises. Scott, by contrast, wants to give teachers an automatic raise of $2,500.
Saturday’s announcement was warmly received by both parties.
“It’s certainly well deserved,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who sits on the appropriations committee. “They have gone a long time without raises, and this is a good indication that the people of Florida appreciate what our state workers are doing. Times are better. We are looking to get back on a track when our state employees will be compensated even better.”