By Sen. Doug Whitsett (R-Distr. 28)
Oregon public employees are being paid more to work fewer hours according to calculations by the Oregon Department of Administrative Services.
Oregon has tens of thousands of state employees. Over the past several months, the news media has stated that these “dedicated” Oregon public servants are experiencing budgetary cuts that will result in lower pay and reduced hours. They suggest that the budgetary cuts must in turn reduce services to the public. As a member of both the Ways and Means Committee and the Emergency Board, I have first hand information regarding the cost of employee salaries and benefits. That knowledge leads me to question the accuracy of some of the news releases.
For that reason, I requested the Senate Republican staff to ask the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to determine and compare the average compensation paid to state employees, as well as the average time off from work, between 2008 and 2009. The short answer from DAS is that the average Oregon state employee received both an $897 increase in compensation and several more days off in 2009 than they did in 2008.
According to the DAS figures, in 2008 the average state employee was paid $47,724 in salary and $20,407 in benefits for a total compensation of $68,131. In 2009 the average state employee will be paid $48,459 in salary and $20,569 in benefits for a total of $69,028. The $897 increase in average compensation is after an average of $2,682 was subtracted for mandatory time off without pay called furlough days.
The bottom line is that the Oregon taxpayer will pay more for receiving less service because the average Oregon state employee will earn more for working several days less in 2009 than they did in 2008.
During labor negotiations it was determined that more money could be “saved” by actually closing agencies during furlough days rather than staggering the employees hours to enable the agencies to remain open to serve the public.
For instance, Friday November 27th was a furlough day when state agencies were closed. Perhaps not coincidentally, that gave state employees a four day Thanksgiving weekend and also prevented the public from accessing state services for four consecutive days. Some personnel such as Department of Correction officers, Oregon State Police officers, and emergency staff for the Department of Human Services will be working on furlough days to provide critical services, but their offices will not be open during these state mandatory days off.
According to the Legislative Fiscal Office, Oregon has more than 50,000 full time equivalent (FTE) employees. An FTE is one full time position employed for 24 months. Oregon has added more than 1,700 new state employees since the Legislature adjourned June 30, 2009.
By definition in state law, state employees do not include employees of special districts, cities, counties, school districts, education service districts, community colleges, universities, and those who work for the Legislature, Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer or other statewide elected officials, those who work for non-government organizations with state taxpayer funding, or of course, any federal employees. Well more than 170,000 people actually work for the various state government entities in Oregon.
Other courses of action were available to reduce employee payroll costs without reducing services.
For instance, state employees do not contribute toward their health insurance premiums. In contrast, according to the Oregon Educators Benefit Board, the average Oregon K-12 teacher pays about $187 per month toward their health insurance premiums. If Oregon state employees would agree to a similar health insurance premium contribution the savings to taxpayers would exceed $225 million per budget cycle.
Altering vacation time, sick leave, personal days, family leave and other work time benefits could reduce the number of employees required. Many state employees actually work less than 200 days per year when all these work leave benefits are combined. This requires as many as 20% more state employees to keep the positions staffed to serve the public.
Altering the Public Employee Retirement System employer contribution is another available venue for savings. The current system is one of the most generous and costly benefits in the nation.
DAS is the agency most responsible for the Oregon employee payroll. That agency’s comparisons clearly show that the average Oregon state employee has not experienced the reduction in pay, the reduction in benefits, or the increased workload currently being experienced by many employees in the private sector.
In contrast, they are earning more for working fewer hours.