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Oklahoma House gives some staff pay raises amid budget crisis

The Oklahoma House of Representatives debates a revenue bill Oct. 25 in at the State Capitol. (KOKH/Anthony West)

The Oklahoma House of Representatives is facing criticism after giving several staff members substantial pay raises.

The move comes at a time when the legislature is dealing with an estimated $100 million budget shortfall, and several state agencies have gone through funding cuts and layoffs.

“It seems like the House is taking care of their own, and not dealing with other state employees who are the backbone of this state,” said Sterling Zearley, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.

According to Jason Sutton, spokesperson for House Speaker Charles McCall, the professional staff who received pay raises, including attorneys and fiscal analysts, were being paid below market value relative to state agencies.

“The House of Representatives routinely loses professional staff, and corresponding institutional knowledge, to the state agencies, which generally pay staff at higher rates than the Legislature,” Sutton said in a statement. He cited two key employees the House lost in the past two months to jobs with better pay.

Zearley says state agencies also see high employee turnover.

“I can take you to 10,000 to 15,000 state employees right now and show you how far they’re below market,” said Zearley. “And they’re just as important – if not more important – than some of the House staff that received raises.”

The OPEA is now throwing its support behind a bill to give state employees a pay raise, since many haven’t received a bump in pay in more than a decade.

“We have critical positions in the state that need compensation,” Zearley said. “When you have people that have to work two jobs, sometimes three jobs, and they service our citizens – that’s ridiculous.”

Rep. Dustin Roberts has filed the bill to increase employee pay. It would provide a $2,500 pay raise in 2018, 2019, and 2020, for a three-year total of $7,500.

Sutton pointed out the agencies have the same ability to give employees pay increases, without legislative action. The legislature receives an annual appropriations for operations just like state agencies do, and can fund raises out of those appropriations.

FOX 25 is still working to find out just how many House staff members got the pay increases and the total cost of the raises.

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