Pay for state employees in Virginia ranks 49th in the nation compared with compensation for private employees, according to the state’s top personnel officer.
“Only Georgia is below us,” said Sarah Redding Wilson, director of the Department of Human Resource Management.
Virginia ranks even lower — as in last — in total compensation for state employees in a report by the American Enterprise Institute, according to a lobbyist for state workers.
“We’ve been passed by Mississippi and Alabama — what’s the world coming to?” R. Ronald Jordan, executive director of the Virginia Governmental Employees Association, told a House Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday.
State employees, state police, teachers, sheriff’s deputies and constitutional officers all called for immediate relief and a long-term plan to address lagging salaries in a hearing before the appropriations subcommittee on compensation and retirement.
“The bottom line is we need help, we need serious help, and we need it immediately,” said M. Wayne Huggins, executive director of the Virginia State Police Association and a former state police superintendent.
State employees and state police have been fuming since they were left out of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed amendments to the two-year state budget, which included a small increase in starting pay for local deputies to get them over the threshold so they no longer qualify for food stamps.
But the outlook isn’t any better for sheriff’s departments, according to their chief lobbyist, who cited a turnover rate of 25 percent to 27 percent for deputies in their first year at a starting salary that lags behind marine resource officers and game wardens, Capitol police, state troopers, and police officers in Henrico County.
“They go to any job in their local community where they can get more money,” said John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association.
While McAuliffe helped sheriffs with deputy pay and payments for housing state inmates, state employees and police are looking to the General Assembly to find money for them in a budget that has been shrunk by $2.4 billion in revenue since last spring.
“Employee compensation is certainly on our radar screen,” said House Appropriations Chairman S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk.
Jones has been meeting regularly with the chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee — Sen. Walter A. Stosch, R-Henrico, and Sen. Charles J. Colgan, D-Prince William — since before the legislative session began to discuss budget concerns.
Colgan has proposed a budget amendment that would give state employees a 2 percent cost-of-living increase in the fiscal year that begins July 1, which the state employee and state police associations had sought in a letter to members of the General Assembly last week.
While Virginia is second among states in pay for federal employees and 11th in pay for private employees, it ranks 33rd in state worker pay, sliding almost to the bottom compared with private compensation in the commonwealth, Wilson said. Salaries for specific jobs lag an average of 26.3 percent behind the private sector — more for some jobs and less for others.
Almost 2,300 state employees received public assistance in 2013, compared with less than a dozen in 2007. Almost 1,900 state workers receive food stamps and 10 percent of the work force qualifies for the earned income tax credit for low-income individuals and families.
“Based on this information, it behooves us, as a best-managed state, to devise a strategy to deal with the compensation situation,” Wilson said.
Teachers also are looking for a long-term solution to steady erosion of their salaries compared with the national average for teachers. Teacher pay in Virginia lagged the national average by $423 in fiscal 1990 but trailed by $7,456 in the last fiscal year.
“I’m looking for a game plan for how to fix this,” said Robley S. Jones, lobbyist for the Virginia Educational Association.
State police don’t have the luxury of looking long term, Huggins said. In addition to $90.3 million in cumulative budget reductions in eight years, state police lost $12.4 million in cuts by McAuliffe this year to help fill the revenue shortfall. Those cuts included about $4 million in “operating efficiencies,” he said. “It’s our overtime fund!”
The plight of state police has not gone unnoticed by assembly budget leaders. “That’s a top priority of mine,” Jones said.
“There is no question there are some long-term issues that need to be addressed,” he said.