Critics Say Proposed Kentucky State Worker Pay Bill Isn’t Enough
Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Critics of a proposed pay raise for state workers said it barely keeps up with inflation and is not enough to alleviate Kentucky's long-standing government workforce crisis.
House Bill 444 would use $89 million for a 6% raise, despite having $200 million already set aside.
Dustin Pugel, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, explained over the past two decades, the state's public workforce has shrunk, despite a growing population and increasing demand for public services.
"We've heard the last couple of sessions, horror stories really from people and child welfare and public defenders about how their caseloads have ballooned," Pugel reported. "That just creates a vicious cycle; when people are overworked and underpaid, they leave."
Last year the General Assembly passed an 8% across the board increase for state workers, and funneled extra cash to social workers, family support staff, public defenders, and the state police. Pugel pointed out while any raise is better than none, the legislation would still leave state workers making far less in inflation-adjusted dollars than they were in 2011.
Nationwide, pay increases for state and local government employees haven't kept pace with inflation or those of private workers, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.
Pugel noted a few years ago, when residents called local agencies for assistance with SNAP benefits, Medicaid, or unemployment insurance benefits, they spent hours waiting on the phone.
"Even now, when you call the department for community based services, you're likely to be on hold for 20, 30, 40 minutes before someone picks up the phone," Pugel observed. "About a third of folks who call in just end up hanging up before anyone helps them."
According to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, even with last year's raise, state government vacancies remain high.
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