Statement by Gary Anderson, Executive Director
In the wake of the 86th Legislative Session, state employees have every right to be angry and frustrated with the Legislature’s continuing neglect of its own workforce. Out of a $250 billion budget (a 16% increase over the current biennium), lawmakers found over $11 billion, including tapping funds from the Rainy Day Fund, to provide the employees of the state’s independent school districts and state judges substantial salary increases. However, their failure to identify adequate resources to grant a modest and long overdue salary increase for their own state agency employees is both stunning and deplorable. Some legislative leaders have attempted to rationalize their actions, citing consideration was given to some agency personnel on a “targeted basis,” and these raises are welcome. However, to use that rationale as a defense of such disproportionate funding would be laughable if the disparity was not so gross in every sense of the word.
Belatedly responding only to state agencies facing an urgent crisis of employee retention is symptomatic of an underlying problem: the consistent failure of the Legislature to establish a reasonably competitive base salary for all state employees and to invest in those employees on an ongoing basis. There is no rationale that can cover up this fundamental breakdown in legislative responsibility.
The proof is in the numbers. The last time the Legislature enacted an across the board pay raise was in 2013. Since that time, inflation has gone up almost 18%. Despite their work and dedication to public service, state employees are significantly poorer today than they were six years ago. What is the effect of this eroding economic position? Turnover rates across state agencies is approaching 20%: one in five. For young employees with fewer than two years of service, those the agencies invest so much in training early in their careers, turnover has reached a staggering and unsustainable 41%. Under these conditions, who can blame young and talented people entering the workforce for scoffing at the idea of a life in public service?
TPEA spent the entire legislative session showing the Legislature these facts. We had an unprecedented level of member involvement in reaching out to legislators, visiting their offices, and communicating with them in their districts. We showed them that 65% of state employees make below the average state employee salary. We showed them that, as ridiculous as it sounds, 10% of state employees are Medicaid eligible. We showed them that 1 in 4 state employees make less than $36,000 annually. Imagine trying to raise a family in a place like Austin, Dallas, or Houston - where housing prices are skyrocketing - on $36,000. It can’t be done. It shouldn’t have to be done.
Some legislators listened to the facts we presented and urged the leadership to address them. We are deeply grateful for their support. Nevertheless, their pleas, like ours, fell on deaf ears. What will it take to make the leadership listen? State employees in every House and Senate district in the state must let their anger be known to their elected representatives. Legislators respond to constituents who are upset and want something done. The anger is there. Let it be heard. Let legislators know that you, your family, your colleagues, and your neighbors want answers and aren’t going away. Until this unconscionable state of affairs becomes a political problem for lawmakers, nothing will change. And that is unacceptable.