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State Employee Pay Hikes On The Table

Florida Gov. Rick Scott in Tampa in January. (File/AP)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott in Tampa in January. (File/AP)

Florida would have more state employees, and at least some of them would make more money, under a budget proposal unveiled this week by Gov. Rick Scott.

But whether to provide employees with their first across-the-board pay raises since 2013 will be decided in the upcoming legislative session, with one powerful senator gearing up to push the issue in his chamber's spending plan.

Scott's proposal would add a total of 596 positions, while cutting 266. The vast majority of the new jobs, 327, would be at the Department of Corrections, which is in the middle of a turnaround effort after revelations of prisoner mistreatment. Among the other new openings would be 90 for the state's mental-health system and 46 counterterrorism jobs at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

According to the governor's office, 86 percent of the jobs that would be cut are already vacant, with "many more" likely to be empty by the time the budget year begins July 1. A handful of state services, like the print shop at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, would be outsourced to private companies.

A net increase in jobs would still be a rarity for Scott, who generally has pushed to shrink the number of state employees in earlier budgets.

And while Scott wouldn't provide an across-the-board pay increase, he would make state employees eligible for one-time performance bonuses of up to $1,500 in increments of $500. For example, employees would get $500 if agencies reach certain benchmarks, another $500 if employees are rated at least "satisfactory," and a third increment based on budget savings.

Scott has pushed for such an approach before, as he noted to reporters Tuesday after presenting his budget plan.

"I wish the Legislature would go through (with) that," he said. "We have great state workers. You really have to thank people for what they do. The people that work in state government are on a mission. They really try to do their job really well. So I think we've got to make sure we pay them well."

Some lawmakers are shooting for more as they prepare for the March 7 start of the annual legislative session.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has signaled that he will push hard for salary increases. The last boost came in 2013, when lawmakers approved a $1,400-a-year raise for workers making up to $40,000. Those making above that mark got a $1,000-a-year increase.

At the time, it was the first pay hike for all state employees in six years, as the state's budget was crimped by fallout of the financial downturn.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told reporters at the Associated Press' annual legislative planning session Tuesday that Latvala's insistence means some sort of pay raise will likely be in his chamber's budget proposal.

"Senator Latvala has made it clear to me and to other senators that this is his No. 1 policy initiative," Negron said. "As we're preparing the blueprint for our budget ... I think my operating assumption is that based on Senator Latvala's commitment to that issue, I would expect to see a pay raise for state employees in the Senate budget."

But House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, sounded ambivalent about the possibility. Corcoran has called for cutting the budget to avoid projected shortfalls in future years. Still, the speaker didn't rule out either Scott's bonus program or raises.

"I think those are things that are on the table and are capable of happening," he said Tuesday. "What we have said in the House is that you're going to have to cut the budget."

Scott's plan would also make a series of tweaks to health insurance for state employees. An audit to re-examine dependents on the state health-care plan could help save $45 million a year, though it would cost $1.2 million to perform. A new way of managing drug prescriptions could save another $51.2 million.

And Scott has once again proposed having all state employees pay the same rates for their health insurance, something that would increase the premiums for a select number of higher-ranking state officials. It would save the state $21.8 million --- but seems as unlikely to pass this year as in each of Scott's previous budgets, which unsuccessfully included the same provision.

The News Service of Florida is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.