OKLAHOMA CITY — Nearly all state employees could see a 9% pay hike under legislation from a GOP lawmaker who plays a key role in writing the state budget.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, filed legislation in December to give the state’s roughly 31,000 part-time and full-time employees a 9% pay bump.
Tony DeSha, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said it has likely been decades since state workers received such significant across-the-board pay raises.
“This is a great start because we haven’t seen anything like this in a long time,” he said.
The average state employee makes an annual salary of about $50,000, DeSha said. A 9% pay increase for those workers would be about $4,500.
The Oklahoma Legislature last approved across-the-board pay raises for state employees in 2019. Workers saw pay hikes of up to $1,500. In 2022, lawmakers approved targeted pay raises for specific state employees, including Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents, public health workers and state park rangers.
Thompson said the proposed raises would cost the state about $173 million. He said he arrived at the 9% percent figure by looking at the decline in state employees’ buying power since 2019.
State employees have lost about 18% of their buying power in the past five years due to inflation, increased health insurance premiums and other economic factors, Thompson said. Although the proposed raises are only 50% of what state employees need, Thompson said he felt like a 9% pay bump is attainable this year.
“Employees are taking a (financial) hit every time they turn around, so I think now’s the time,” he said.
State elected officials, agency directors, judges and district attorneys would not be eligible for the raises under Thompson’s Senate Bill 1292.
A report issued last year showed the majority of state employees are underpaid compared to their private-sector counterparts. Some state agencies have increased staff pay or offered employee bonuses in recent years, but only the Legislature can approve across-the-board pay raises for all state workers.
Thompson’s proposal appears to have some support across the Capitol rotunda, but it could get wrapped into other policy discussions as House leadership lobbies hard for tax cuts this year.
House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, told Oklahoma City television station News 9 last month he would back pay raises for state employees if Thompson supported tax cut legislation this year. Thompson and some other GOP senators have been wary of major tax cut proposals in recent years.
“You give me a tax cut with that $4.5 billion, let’s go give state employees a pay raise,” Echols said, citing the amount of money in state savings accounts.
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