Lawmakers Debate How Best to Retain Public Employees

A new study found public employees’ salaries and benefits are highly competitive with Utah’s private sector, Utah State Auditor John Dougall and Department of Human Resources Management Director Paul Garver told lawmakers at an Aug. 15 meeting.

However, when separated into base salary and benefits, base salary 12.28 percent below the market median, they told the Legislature’s Government Operations Interim Committee. The benefits for Tier 1 and 2 employees range from 40 percent to 55 percent above market median.

Garver suggested that the best way to retain and recruit public employees is to create a value proposition for public employees. The private market will always be more “quick and nimble” and able to adapt to changing markets than state government. Because of this, creating a robust package of benefits along with competitive salaries is vital.

Rep. Adam Robertson, R-Provo, noted that “few jobs are as stable as a government job.” He asked whether Utah should move toward a general market model to keep the public market at the same competitive level as the private market. Rep.  Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, pointed out that Utah should focus more on retention of their public employees. She shared an anecdote from her days as an attorney, recalling how costly the high turnover rate was to her office. “Keeping dedicated, hardworking, public employees should remain our priority.”

Overall, the legislators agree that Utah needs to find a way to appeal to the younger generations, who may prefer higher base salaries over retirement/healthcare benefits.

Garver did not have a recommendation to present at the committee. However, he promised to, “continue to work with current partners [PEHP and URS] to create options and opportunities for the Legislature to consider” in the coming session.

Dougall emphasized the importance of establishing a “compensation philosophy” to base the goals of the committee on when it comes to total compensation of public employees. He posed rhetorical questions such as: Should the Utah Legislature place its focus on retention, recruitment, or next generation skills?

Committee Chairman, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, motioned to open a bill file, which passed unanimously. Harper asked UPEA Executive Director, Todd Losser, to participate in future meetings with all other stake holders. Garver will return to present recommendations to the committee during the October interim committee meeting. Ideally, by November the committee will be able to create legislation based on those recommendations.

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