(The Center Square) – The number of Louisiana state workers who work under the governor has declined since 2013, though the average pay for those workers has increased, according to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.
The number of state employees in executive branch agencies decreased by 3.8 percent from 37,665 in fiscal year 2013 to 36,241 during the fiscal year that ended June 30. The most common reasons for these decreases were voluntary resignation (48.6 percent) and retirement (16.0 percent).
During that same period, total pay for executive branch employees increased from $1.7 billion to $1.8 billion, the LLA reports. The increases primarily were driven by implementation of the Civil Service Commission’s compensation redesign plan in fiscal year 2017, which allowed for market salary adjustments to eligible classified employees, according to the auditor’s office.
The pay increases did not keep up with the national inflation rate. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, $1.7 billion in 2013 is equivalent to $1.88 billion in 2020 dollars.
For many years, state employees routinely received annual across-the-board merit raises of 4 percent. Lawmakers scrapped that system in favor of “market rate adjustments.”
State government agencies hire new employees at below-market rates with the understanding that workers will be put on a path that gets them to a salary comparable to what they would get in the private sector, Civil Service Director Byron Decoteau said last year. The increases are intended to reduce turnover, which Decoteau said costs taxpayers millions annually.
Though market rate adjustments are based solely on an employee’s position in their pay range, inflation is accounted for in the recommendations to adjust the pay schedules, Lindsay Ruiz de Chavez with Louisiana State Civil Service said.
“The health of our pay schedules is monitored on an annual basis and while recommendations for change are largely based on market comparison benchmarks, inflation is also taken into consideration when adjusting the minimums and maximums of our pay schedules,” she said by email.
Gov. John Bel Edwards last year used his veto power to allow almost $60 million in market rate increases to go forward over legislators’ objections, citing the Civil Service Board’s constitutional authority to approve the raises. Lawmakers said they were unhappy with the optics of giving raises when so many private-sector workers were unemployed and said they didn’t know how to explain the taxpayer-funded raises to their constituents.
During the period covered by the Legislative Auditor’s report, the cost of overtime for state workers increased by $41.4 million (59.3 percent), retirement and benefit expenses increased by $249.8 million (30.1 percent) and professional services expenditures increased by $133.8 million (38.8 percent).
Agencies attributed the spike in overtime payments to emergency response operations, such as the response to the 2016 flood, and to staffing requirements in agencies such as the Louisiana Department of Health and the Department of Transportation and Development.
The number of employees in the executive department of state government increased 13.6 percent, more than any other agency, from 2,948 to 3,349, according to the LLA. Consolidation of technology services in that department and a staff increase in the Office of Elderly Affairs caused the uptick.
The number of employees in the Department of Education decreased almost 50 percent, from 2,448 to 1,235, the biggest decrease by percentage of any agency. The department says closing schools in the New Orleans Recovery School District during fiscal years 2013 and 2014 led to the decrease.