From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
January 31, 2001
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Senate Finance Committee Works to Address State Employee Concerns
Special Working Group Named to Review Pay Concerns

(Austin)// The Senate Finance Committee today held a special hearing to investigate staffing issues at Texas state agencies, including turnover rates, state employee pay, and technology concerns.

"The cost of high turnover is affecting the quality of care of our children, the sick and infirm, and the safety of our correctional officers and all Texans," said Chairman Rodney Ellis (D-Houston). "We need to do more to meet the challenges facing our state employees and our state agencies."

At the hearing, Chairman Ellis announced the creation of a special working group on state employees issues, to be chaired by Senator Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin). Senator Chris Harris (R-Arlington), Senator Carlos Truan (D-Corpus Christi) and Senator Tom Haywood (R-Wichita Falls) will serve on the working group.

The working group will review options to determine the best method to address the state employee pay issue under current budget constraints. While Texas enjoys a $1 billion budget surplus, nearly $700 million will be dedicating to covering unanticipated Medicaid cost increases. Last session, the legislature provided $556 million for a $100 across-the-board state employee pay raise, but rising health insurance premiums, housing costs and other out-of-pocket expenses have eaten up much of this increase.

"I am going to get the state employees a pay raise, period. And I hope it's a good one," said Senator Barrientos.

"Anytime we have a turnover rate of this significance, at a potential cost to the state in excess of $260 million, I believe it is something that this body must approach with most serious consideration," said Senator Harris.

"Texas state employees provide an exceptional service for this state," said Senator Robert Duncan. "Even in a tight budget year, we need to continue to move forward in our efforts to protect benefits and provide competitive salaries." State employee issues, such as low pay and staffing shortages, have gained increased attention in recent months. Overall, low pay and other issues have contributed to a staff turnover rate of 18.9 percent in Texas state agencies, and it has reached dangerous levels in some areas. For example, the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation last year faced a shortfall of 34 percent, and the Department of Criminal Justice reported a shortfall of 2,500 correctional officers in Texas prisons. The day of the prison breakout at the Connally Unit, there were only 94 employees to do the work of 127 workers.

Texas' staffing troubles impact not only the effectiveness of state agencies, but the health of the state budget. According to the State Auditor, high turnover rates in state agencies will cost Texas $500 million over the biennium. Because wages for state workers have not kept up with the pace of the high tech economy, Texas' state employees now earn 11 percent less than their counterparts in the private sector. Of the 10 largest states, only Georgia offer less pay to state employees than Texas.

"I can offer only one promise: we will do our best. This committee and this Senate will work diligently to make progress on these issues, and make it this session," said Ellis. "We may not be able to do all that we want and hope to do, but we understand the need and we understand the urgency."