Under the Dome

State employee raises uncertain for now, House Speaker Tim Moore says

House Speaker Tim Moore, right, addressed the possibility of state employee raises during a news conference Wednesday with Senate leader Phil Berger.
House Speaker Tim Moore, right, addressed the possibility of state employee raises during a news conference Wednesday with Senate leader Phil Berger. cliddy@newsobserver.com

House Speaker Tim Moore said Wednesday he expects his chamber would “always” like to offer pay raises for state employees. But the new leader of the state House said it will take more time before there is certainty about that.

Moore noted Wednesday that all state employees received a pay raise for the fiscal year that began on July 1.

“Depending on the economic circumstances, we would always like to do that,” he said. “It’s a little premature to know what we can do (next fiscal year) and how far we can go until we know exactly how much money we have.”

Moore’s remarks Wednesday came with Senate leader Phil Berger at his side. Berger did not comment.

Speaking generally about everyone on the state payroll, State Employees Association of North Carolina Executive Director Dana Cope said recently a meaningful pay raise would be in the neighborhood of 5 percent. According to the legislature’s Fiscal Research Division, a raise would cost $20 million for each 1 percent increase for State Personnel Act-covered employees, not counting university and community college staffers.

Moore spoke at greater length about slowing the state employee turnover rate and helping agencies retain talent, saying it has to be a legislative goal. It’s a problem for especially sensitive components of government like the State Crime Lab and the Department of Health and Human Services, whose leaders have said low staff salaries are costing them. They say they can’t compete with what private employers are paying for similar work, and they’re losing institutional knowledge with longtime workers leaving for better compensation.

“We’re going to have to deal with it. We’re going to have to find some way to deal with it in terms of staffing,” said Moore, noting pay adjustments among possibilities. “I believe on our side (in the House), we’ll want to try and find a way to do that.”

Moore said he knows well the problems with the State Crime Lab, in which “a private lab can come in and hire these lab analysts away and pay them much more money, and that adds to the backlog.” A report last year from a working group of judges and district attorneys on ways to reduce the testing backlog emphasized the salary problem and called it a “grave concern.”

In September, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos said the private sector is paying double what some positions in her department can offer.

“So we are off substantially in the skill sets that are critical to the department,” she told a legislative committee.

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