Holden's pay plan

Friday, February 6, 2004

Gov. Bob Holden makes no bones about his relationship with unions. It is no surprise that a Democratic governor would curry favor with the broad base of support unions can deliver on Election Day. While Holden's 2001 executive order expanding collective bargaining rights for state workers infuriated most Republicans and some Democrats, the action was consistent with the labor ties the governor has nurtured.

But Holden's plan to give state workers who are union members bigger raises than others state employees is an even deeper descent into the pit of partisan politics. The governor's proposal carries a stench that offends some members of his own party.

State workers have gone without raises long enough as the legislature and governor have hashed out tight budgets in recent years. It would be hard to find an elected official in Jefferson City who believes the employees who perform the tasks expected of state government should be penalized any longer.

To that end, the Holden-appointed Personnel Advisory Board recommended pay increases in 22 job classifications, including an across-the-board 2 percent raise for all 61,000 state employees at a cost of $46 million. Additional adjustments were recommended for some classifications, but the governor's proposal ignores those recommendations. Instead, his plan goes along with union recommendations to raise pay in 16 categories above levels recommended by his own advisory panel. The additional raises for what the governor is calling "critical care" workers in mental-health institutions, veterans homes and prisons would cost another $14 million.

While the proposed raises are being applauded by unions -- and by a good many gratified state workers who are long overdue for a pay increase -- the blatantly politically motivated aspect of the plan is causing some discomfort for seasoned veterans of the legislative process -- a process, by the way, that will have the final say on raises. Republican legislative leaders have said they will modify Holden's plan during the budget process.

Meanwhile, Holden expects his proposal will be enough to solidify his union support, even if the raises he proposed don't go through. But his political antics may backfire in a state with a large rural population that is mostly non-union. Playing pure politics with the state budget will not be highly regarded by outstate voters.

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