Governor Kemp Proposes Overdue Raises For State Employees

Last week’s Courier Herald column:

If you look around at any business, you’ll likely notice they’re short staffed.  Georgia’s unemployment rate is at an all-time low, and help wanted signs are everywhere.  Wages for entry level jobs are going up.  While the official “minimum wage” hasn’t changed in over a decade, market forces remain at work as employers bid for scarce labor.

At the Georgia Chamber’s Eggs and Issues Breakfast Wednesday – an event that serves as the policy discussion kickoff for the Georgia General Assembly – a representative from Amazon noted that their average starting wage in Georgia is now $18 per hour.  Bank of America has raised its minimum starting salary to $21 per hour, with a pledge to continue to $25 by 2025.

These are both large employers in the state, offering competitive benefits packages to their workers.  Then, there’s the State of Georgia.

An article from WJBF in Augusta last August touted a job fair for Juvenile Correctional Officers.  The starting salary advertised was “just over $30,000 per year”.  A search on Glassdoor notes that DFCS case manager salaries were reported at about $33,000 per year.  That works out to about $14.50 and $15.90 respectively, assuming a 40-hour work week.

Governor Brian Kemp is proposing an across the board Cost of Living Adjustment to the salaries of state employees of $5,000 per year.  His office notes that this would be the first COLA for the state’s workers in 14 years.

While the state has used budget surpluses over this time period to fund local school districts to enable teacher pay raises, and an adjustment was made to Law Enforcement Officers pay scales a few years ago, the salaries of many state employees has stagnated.  With the current economic environment, it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract and retain workers.

It should be noted that this COLA proposal is a flat rate.  The top managers of state agencies are proposed to receive the exact dollar amount in raises as the entry level workers.  While those at the top may not notice much of a difference, the roughly $2.40 per hour raise could represent a 16% increase to those Juvenile Corrections Officers mentioned above.

There will be cries of politics with the timing, but the facts of the matter show that Georgia has never had the budget surpluses it has amassed over the past year – complete with a full rainy day fund.  The hyper-partisans on each side will likely not be pleased anyway.  Some will argue that it’s not enough, while others will lament permanently increasing the cost of state government.

For the latter, they might need to be reminded of the Peanut Corporation of America scandal. Chronic underpayment of food inspectors led to constant turnover within the Department of Agriculture and missed a food processing company tainting the nation’s supply of peanut products with salmonella. 

We can debate the size and scope of government all day long, but what we the people decide the government must do it must do competently.  This requires paying market wages to the workers we ask to perform these roles.

It’s been an easier case to make – an arguably a politically expedient one – to pay teachers and law enforcement officers more over time.  Yet it is the efforts of our DFCS workers, our Juvenile Corrections officers, and a host of others that bear the heavy lifting of getting kids back on track so that they can perform well in a classroom, and avoid becoming part of the law enforcement/correctional system later on.

There are many, many other functions of state government that are necessary, and many of these jobs are neither easy nor attractive.  Some require college degrees, while paying less than that of warehouse workers or bank tellers.

The laws of economics will eventually determine market wages.  If the State of Georgia wants to continue to perform as its citizens expect, these raises must be seen as what they are.  They’re the realization that if you expect someone to do the job, you must pay them appropriately for the job they are doing.


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