Senate Especial Committee Examines State Employee Compensation and Benefits
AUSTIN - One of the challenges facing the Legislature in the coming session is how to keep experienced state employees during a time of budget deficits, as state pay falls behind similar jobs in the private sector. Committee Chairman Jeff Wentworth said, "Our current state employee turnover rate is over 18 percent . . . double or triple that in some agencies . . . when turnover rates are this high, the taxpayers of Texas lose. We lose the younger employees who would one day assume the leadership roles and we lose the capital invested in training those employees."
Michelle Smith from the Texas State Employees Union was the first invited witness. She said that even during the recent prosperous times, state employees have been working with restricted budgets that have been cut repeatedly and that since 1987, they have lost 25 percent of their buying power due to inflation without accompanying raises. Andrew Homer from the Texas Public Employees Association said that the 18 percent turnover rate has cost the state over a billion dollars in retraining costs, he called it a "brain drain" as experienced employees retire and the best younger ones leave for better paying jobs in the private sector.
Brian Hawthorne from the Department of Public Safety Officers Association said its objective was to increase benefits to get new troopers to stay until at least the age of 30. Oran McMichael from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said that turnover is still a problem at the Texas Department of Corrections, despite pay raises approved by the last Legislature, with some units losing 30 percent of their employees each year. He said that while pay may no longer be as important an issue, problems with employee-management relationship are.
Chuck Hempstead, Executive Director of the Texas Association of College Teachers, told members that faculty salaries in Texas are five percent lower than the national average, or $58,000 against $61,000. He explained that in the last ten years the average age of college professors has increased by four years, so many retirements are expected. Hempstead asked for a pay increase and better benefits to attract teachers in a very competitive national market.
Dr. Charles Zucker, Executive Director of the Texas Faculty Association, said the shortage of college teachers is not limited to technology and other sciences but is also widespread among other departments. He mentioned the problem of low part-time faculty salaries, saying they make only $22,000 to $24,000 a year, without benefits. Senator Wentworth talked about his past teaching experience as a non-paid faculty, acknowledging the amount of time a teacher works besides the hours taught.
Mike Higgins from the Texas Firefighters Association said that firefighters normally work a set amount of overtime. Kelli Vito from the State Auditor's office reported that indeed, state employees are "behind the market", paid less than people in the private sector doing similar work. Benefits and pay were cited as one of the primary reasons that state employees quit.
Sheila Beckett of the Employees Retirement System then described the current state retirement plans and how they compare with the private sector. Public testimony followed.
The Senate Special Committee on State Employee Compensation and benefits is chaired by Senator Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio. Members include Senators Gonzalo Barrientos, Jon Lindsay, Todd Staples and John Whitmire. Other members include Mr. Gary Anderson and Mr. Roger Williams. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.