State Politics

Quiet budget item: State worker pay cuts

By MARC CAPUTO

Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Legislative leaders promised open talks to settle their disagreements over the budget, but they have yet to say a word about one of the biggest disagreements that snagged budget talks: State worker pay cuts.

House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater will decide the amount and scale of the salary reductions, in part because pay issues are housed in a no-man’s-land section of the budget that historically isn’t part of public budget negotiations.

So far in private, they’ve agreed only on a bottom-line cut of about $30 million. But they have yet to work out the level of reductions — or even talk about them.

“I haven’t had any conversation, frankly, with anyone on the topic,” said Senate President Jeff Atwater. Atwater pledged that they won’t discuss any more details in private.

Legislators have announced they’ll trim their own $30,336 salaries by as much as 6 percent. They’ll also reduce the Legislature’s budget.

But budget reductions might not take much of a toll on the Legislature. It’s the only state entity that’s allowed to roll any leftover money from one budget year into the next.

Of the Legislature’s current $190 million budget, about half came from unspent money from the previous year. So as lawmakers scoured the budgets of state agencies to make sure they weren’t hoarding money, they left out one of the biggest cash hoarders in the state: themselves.

Next budget year, the Legislature may roll over $56 million in unspent money, according to data obtained from the state’s chief financial office.

“Every time we’ve had special session, or spending reduction for agencies,” said House spokeswoman Jill Chamberlin, “we have taken a similar reduction in our spending.”

She said the leftover money “is invested in the state Treasury so it’s not sitting idle.”

Though some of the rolled-over cash could be used to boost legislative employee pay that might otherwise be trimmed in the proposed budget July 1, Senate budget chief Alexander said that probably won’t happen.

“Everyone should be treated equally,” he said.

The Senate pay-cut proposal will likely target those who make more than $65,000, trimming their salaries by about 2.5 percent. The House is more interested in a 1 percent across-the-board cut. That’s a big decrease from the maximum 5 percent pay cut it was originally pushing.

Cretul and Atwater will announce their agreement on pay cuts by Monday, when the budget is printed. By then, it will be too late to lobby for any changes to their proposal, but the presiding officers point out that lawmakers will have ample time to examine the budget before it’s voted out of the chambers by Friday, May 8.

State workers are pleased they won’t be hit too hard, said Doug Martin, spokesman for the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees.

“Of course, we’d prefer they do this all in public. But we don’t have much of a say,” Martin said. “We’re just ants on a log.”

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