Report: State workers’ wages lag behind jobs in private sector

Jan 1, 2008

By Bill Cotterell

Gov. Charlie Crist has seen the end of an eight-year decline in state employment, but the average salaries of workers in Florida’s government agencies and their rate of pay raises lag behind money most might make in the private sector.

In a departure from ex-Gov. Jeb Bush’s personnel policies, the state’s year-end Annual Workforce Report explodes two widely held beliefs of the Republican-run Legislature — that state government is a bloated bureaucracy and that its operating costs are disproportionately burdensome for Florida taxpayers.

Crist’s administration quietly reinstated two measurements that Bush had deleted from the annual personnel report, ranking Florida third from the bottom in its ratio of state employees, per capita, and dead last in cost of personnel per taxpayer.

Besides slumping salaries, the state also short-changes its staff on training, said Linda South, head of the Department of Management Services. DMS is required to compile the annual compendium of facts and figures on state personnel.

“To me, that is a credible threat to the ongoing operation of state government,” she said. “If we are not competitive in our salaries, we won’t be able to attract and retain the kind of people we need.”

‘Less of a disdain’

State Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, has represented state employees in the Big Bend area since 1982. As head of the Senate Governmental Operations Committee, Lawson said Crist has changed the climate in Tallahassee.

“Bush rewarded cutting work force and many of the agencies were reacting, even though they knew they would be short-staffed,” said Lawson.

Lawson and Rep. Curtis Richardson, D-Tallahassee, said Crist respects state workers because he was one — briefly, in the Department of Business and Professional Regulation — after he left the Legislature in 1998 and before he ran for education commissioner in 2000.

“I think you have less of a disdain for state employees on the part of the current governor because he once was one,” Richardson said. “It’s a whole change in attitude toward state employees.”

The annual report indicates that Crist has presided over the first growth in total state government employment since the late Gov. Lawton Chiles started the decline in his last year — a reduction that Bush accelerated with privatization and computerization.

Courts lead growth

The 40-page DMS study said the average employee in the State Personnel System — Career Service, Selected Exempt Service and Senior Management — earned $38,313 as of June 30. That’s up 12.7 percent from the $33,993 average of 2002, when Bush started his second term.

But in the same time, the average annual wage for all industries in Florida rose 18.7 percent, from $32,417 to $38,498, the state report said.

The figures do not include the $1,000 bonus that state employees got in the current fiscal year, in lieu of a percentage pay raise. That was a one-time payment that does not figure into the base pay of state workers.

Bush, an enthusiastic advocate of privatization and computerized automation in state agencies, proudly presided over a decline in state employment, from nearly 125,000 when he took office in 1999 to 108,866 at the end of 2006 in the big three state personnel classifications. The annual personnel report said Crist saw a growth to 112,373 positions in Career Service, Selected Exempt Service and Senior Management, in the first six months of Crist’s term.

Because of vacancies, the number of people in those positions always lags and varies through the year. But the annual report said that after falling 4 percent in Bush’s last four-year term, the actual headcount rose slightly by June 30 — to 104,960 — leaving about 7,000 unfilled State Personnel System job slots in 32 agencies. Although it occurred on Crist’s watch, much of the position growth was caused by policies and budget items adopted by the Legislature in previous years.

When all employment classes are added in — the university system, courts, Legislature, lottery and a few smaller units — the total of authorized state positions in state government was 167,268 when Bush left for Miami. By the end of the last fiscal year on June 30, it was 171,333.

Much of the growth came in the courts, which gained about 1,400 positions.

More training needed

South, who headed the state’s Agency for Workforce Innovation under Bush, said state government needs to emphasize training for the 46 percent of its employees who have between five and 20 years’ service. Those are the ones who are not likely to quit, she said, and are most likely to have a decade or two of productive service to offer if the state can keep them.

“If we’re going to work with a ratio that’s the third-lowest in the country for the number of state employees, per population, then we need to make sure that every single one of our employees is well-trained in their jobs, so they can do their jobs efficiently, accurately and with a high degree of excellence,” she said.

The annual report said Florida has 106 full-time state workers per 10,000 population — third from the bottom, above only Illinois (103) and Nevada (104).

Florida also posted the lowest payroll cost per taxpayer at $36 last year. The national average was $56, the DMS study said.

“That’s wonderful,” said Jeanette Wynn, state president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 70,000 office workers and laborers.

She said state workers well remember Bush musing, in his second inaugural address, that it would be a tribute to Florida’s maturity as a society if “we could empty out” many of the state office buildings he was gazing toward from the Old Capitol’s steps.

“He was certainly proud of that,” said Wynn, who spent 28 years as an employee at Florida State Hospital. “I’m just really proud of the new governor, and I say that all the time. He really, really seems concerned about state employees, and in my conversations with him, he’s shown that.”

South said the annual report “is an important piece of research for us, and it paints an interesting picture.”

South said about a third of employees have worked for the state five years or less, while about one in five has been in state service 20 or more years.

“That means that 46 percent of the state’s work force is in that critical window or pipeline between five years or 20 years,” she said. “These are people who are growing their careers, who have professional competencies and still have plenty of time to bring their time and talent to the people of Florida.”

South said state policy should be geared to train and retain those people

“The training dollars that we invest in state employees is very low. We invest about 0.8 percent of salary in training. According to the American Society for Training Development, really great companies in the private sector invest about 2.5 percent of their salaries in training. I think that’s another credible threat to us.”