Lawmaker Acknowledges State Employees ‘Never Really Recovered from the Recession’

Public employee salaries have increased only 41 percent over the past 32 years compared with 80 percent for nonstate employees, a new economic report shows.

The disparity creates a challenge in hiring public employees, and “the effects are universal across all agencies,” Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, told the Legislature’s Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Oct. 16.

“This is a very important issue to the committee,” he said. “State employees have never really recovered from the recession in terms of pay.”

Hutchings asked the Utah Public Employees’ Association (UPEA) for help in putting together numbers to highlight this issue. UPEA enlisted the help of John Matthews, an economic consultant who worked with the Department of Workforce Services for more than 40 years.

Matthews studied data starting in 1980 and compared state employee pay and cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) with the consumer price index (CPI).  UPEA compiled the data and the Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM) verified it.

The data represented the average pay for all state employees.  Matthews emphasized that the report is based on wage and salary and does not include benefits.

“These findings aren’t simply a little bit significant … in fact, ‘significant’ isn’t even a strong enough word,” said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City. “My main question is, how did we get here?”

UPEA fought hard during last year’s legislative session to ensure public employees received a 2.5 percent COLA. While this was a significant achievement, it was the first major pay raise for public employees in 10 years.

“This report proves that public employees need a significant pay increase,” UPEA Executive Director Todd Losser told the subcommittee.

Subcommittee members expressed interest in having UPEA and Mathews return at a later date for further discussion.