CHARLESTON, W.Va. — For those who are hearing the great news that West Virginia public employees are in line for a 5 percent pay bump, it’s a little more complicated than that.
For starters, the pay increase is actually expressed as 5 percent of the average salary of state workers.
“That’s an average of taking all the personnel services line item and dividing by the number of employees,” said Eric Nelson, the House Finance chairman.
So if you are a highly-paid public employee, you wouldn’t actually receive 5 percent more. If you are a lower-paid public employee you might receive greater than 5 percent.
The raise is actually a set amount.
Teachers, who have been in the spotlight during a statewide walkout over pay and benefits, are in line for an extra $2,020 a year.
Other public employees are set to receive an additional $2,160 a year.
There are more layers beyond that.
“The word state employee can mean a lot of things,” said state Auditor J.B. McCuskey, whose office oversees state payroll accounting systems.
Teachers, school service personnel and State Police all have pay scales designated by the same section of state code. That — plus the group pressure applied by the educators — is why their pay issues got specific attention.
The pay raises for other state employees will come through adjustments to the General Fund and adjusted through the bill that represents the state budget. The change will be reflected through allocations based on full time equivalent employees per agency.
The trick is, not all agencies receive their money just through the General Fund.
Many are funded through a variety of other means, including federal dollars or through the fees they collect.
“It doesn’t quite apply for special revenue and federal revenue,” Nelson said. “Special and federal revenue make up two-thirds of our budget. Any personnel within those line items or those areas are handled out of their special revenue fees.
“All their leadership would hope to have and pass through the same 5 percent to the extent they can afford it through the revenue they’re generating.”
Employers who meet that description might include people who work for a four-year college or university, community colleges, the Auditor, the Attorney General, the Treasurer, the Department of Agriculture, Secretary Secretary of State, the Legislature and the Supreme Court.
So some agencies are already concerned that employees may be hearing they’re in line for a 5 percent raise when the full funding is not necessarily there.
That’s the case with the Department of Agriculture. Only 60 percent of department employees are paid out of general revenue.
The Agriculture Commissioner has full authority to set staffs’ salaries. So the department has no obligation to follow any order from the governor relating to employee pay.
Based on the 1 percent increase the governor initially proposed for public employees, the agriculture department was about $55,000 short of giving every employee a pay raise.
Now the department is believed to be $260,000 short of giving every employee a 5 percent raise.
“Our budget people are looking at it more closely,” said Crescent Gallagher, a spokesman for the Department.
“We should have numbers on that soon. The Commissioner is committed to getting as close as possible to the 5 percent pay raise mark.”
Governor Justice, in his State of the State address, originally pushed for a 1 percent average raise for state employees.
The state Senate in recent days was insistent that if teachers were receiving a greater raise than that, then other public employees should too.
The Senate initially advocated for an average 4 percent raise for teachers and other public employees.
Then, in negotiations this week with the House of Delegates, the two bodies agreed to fund teachers and other public employees at the average 5 percent mark.
“While the Legislature’s intent is to give 5 percent raises for all state employees, in cases where, for example, WVU, some of that funding for those pay raises will be allocated by WVU themselves outside of general revenue funding,” said Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns.
West Virginia University
Likely the state’s most prominent public employer, West Virginia University, put out a video explanation of what the pay raise proposal would mean for employees.
It’s not clear that all university employees would be in line for an average 5 percent increase.
Rob Alsop, the university’s vice president for strategic initiatives, noted that only about 16 to 18 percent by general revenue.
“The rest we have to generate,” Alsop said. “So it’ll be up to the university to figure out how we’re going to fund the details of that compensation plan.”
The university’s board of governors will be tasked with coming up with a plan to use the money the state has provided along with other revenue for “a broad-based, merit program in that 5 percent range.”
“We know it’s been too long since we’ve had compensation adjustments for our employees and that we have some faculty and staff who are now below market and that we need to take action,” Alsop said. “We’ve heard it from faculty our staff and our board.
“What we hope to do next year is to have regular, merit-based compensation programs. Now that we have some certainty from the state, we’ll be able to begin planning in earnest for the fiscal year 2019 compensation adjustments.”
Ferns said WVU is on the right track with its approach to the funding.
“WVU has the flexibility to apply those raises how they see fit and sometimes in those cases they will use a merit-based system,” Ferns said. “Different employees may see a different increase.”