October 15, 2013 9:45:13 AM
JACKSON -- One-third of Mississippi state government's workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five years.
Deanne Mosley, executive director of the state Personnel Board, said the employees nearing retirement age are many of the state's leaders and supervisors.
"They have an incredible amount of institutional knowledge," Mosley told legislative leaders recently.
One of the issues that could impact whether state employees retire when eligible is money. If the employees received a raise, it could provide incentive for them to continue working to increase their retirement benefits.
Essentially, the pay of state workers has been flat for the past five years. During the five-year period, the roughly 32,000 workers covered by the Personnel Board have averaged earning near $34,500 annually. And with a few exceptions, state employees have not had a raise since 2007.
In July 2006, the average salary of state workers was $30,746. It jumped to $34,099 in July 2007 after the Legislature voted on a pay raise earlier that year. The average has been hovering near that mark since then.
Rep. Preston Sullivan, D-Okolona, a member of the Legislative Budget Committee, said he hopes the Legislature can provide a pay raise within the next two years for state workers.
"It is a concern for me," Sullivan said. "It should be a concern for everyone. We have to fund education, too. We just have to prioritize."
Sullivan said he is hopeful because tax collections -- after declining during the economic slowdown -- have been growing at a relatively strong pace for the past couple of years, meaning more funds are available for the Legislature to appropriate. And for the first quarter of the current fiscal year, collections are 12 percent above the previous year.
Sullivan said he is concerned that the fight in Washington over funding the federal government and raising the debt limit could result in another recession and another decline in state tax collections.
"I don't want to talk gloom and doom, but you know when that happens Mississippi is usually the first into recession and the last out," Sullivan said.
Of the discord in Washington, Rep. John Moore, R-Brandon, who also is on the Budget Committee said, "That is the elephant in the room."
Moore said the leadership has started to talk in general terms about the possibility of a pay raise.
"But it will depend on how revenue looks," he said.
Not only has the salary of state workers been stagnant, but so has the size of the workforce.
For the 2013 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, the state workforce was at a 10-year low of 31,514 employees. There were 35,854 authorized positions.
This compared to 32,812 employees in the 2004 fiscal year with 38,705 authorized positions.
The size of the workforce began a period of slight yearly declines, starting in 2008 with the onset of the economic slowdown. Most state agencies underwent significant budget cuts during that time.
While the average salary of the state workers for 2013 was $34,506, 62 percent of the workforce earned less than the average.
According to information provided by the Personnel Board, 35 percent of the workforce earned between $20,000 and $29,000 while 14 percent made between $14,000 and $19,999. Only 5 percent of the workforce earned more than $70,000 and 1 percent made more than $100,000.
The average salary of state workers in the four adjoining states is $43,614. Legislative leaders asked Mosley to do a comparison that included benefits, such as health care and retirement. She said she would do that, but that Mississippi's benefits generally do not exceed those of surrounding states.
Teachers from the kindergarten through the university level and some state employees, who work at the will and pleasure of superiors, often known as political appointees, are not covered by the Personnel Board and are not included in the statistics gathered by the agency.
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