Friday, May 25, 2018
Politics

Florida lawmakers approve state workers' first raises in seven years

TALLAHASSEE — For the first time in seven years, Florida lawmakers have agreed to give state employees automatic salary increases, ending a bleak stretch for a 160,000-member workforce that's weathered cutbacks, pay reductions and slashed benefits.

House and Senate budget negotiators agreed Saturday to pay those making less than $40,000 a $1,400 across-the-board increase. Those making more than $40,000 will receive a $1,000 raise. On top of that, about 35 percent of state workers would get merit bonuses of up to $600.

In all, for those 70 percent of employees who make less than $40,000, Saturday's deal could mean a compensation bump of between 5 and 10 percent.

"You can't make up for all of the damage of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression in one year," said Doug Martin, a lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 50,000 employees. "But this is very significant. This is very meaningful. This is a good day for state employees."

The deal was struck between House and Senate Republican leaders as they negotiate next year's $74 billion budget, which goes into effect July 1. The raises, however, don't kick in until three months later.

"Both (the House and Senate) wanted to recognize the fact that our co-workers in state government throughout Florida work hard every day and we appreciate their contribution to state government and their fellow citizens," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart. "As our revenue picture has improved, both (Senate President Don Gaetz) and House Speaker (Will Weatherford) wanted to show that in a tangible way through a salary incrwease."

The proposed hike is similar to an automatic pay raise of $1,200 that Gov. Rick Scott proposed for all state workers. If lawmakers don't change their minds, it will be included in the final budget due Tuesday. Both chambers will vote on the budget Friday, the final day of the 2013 session.

The raises will cost about $200 million. An additional $10.3 million is proposed in raises for Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers and staff. Those 4,000 employees in law enforcement will get the same automatic pay raises that state workers do, but will receive an automatic 3 percent increase with a 2 percent raise for those with five years experience.

"We've had an issue with state law enforcement," Negron said, explaining the difference in compensation. "We spend a lot of money training the troopers, then they get hired away by local governments."

The House and Senate are still negotiating how to pay for $480 million in raises for the state's 172,000 teachers. So far, they want the state's 67 school districts to come up with their own merit-based system for distributing the raises. Scott, by contrast, wants to give teachers an automatic raise of $2,500.

Saturday's announcement was warmly received by both parties.

"It's certainly well deserved," said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who sits on the appropriations committee. "They have gone a long time without raises and this is a good indication that the people of Florida appreciate what our state workers are doing. Times are better. We are looking to get back on a track when our state employees will be compensated even better."

The pay plan didn't tangle up negotiations, but a vending contract for the manufacturing of state license plates did.

On Friday, the House and Senate agreed to throw out language the House wanted that would have reserved the job of making state license tags for PRIDE, a Brandon company that has had the contract for 30 years.

"The Senate respectfully believes that it's better not to limit the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles when they look for cost-saving alternatives for manufacturing license plates," Negron said Friday. "And we prefer that that be a competitive process rather than limited to one particular vendor."

But on Saturday, the Senate changed its mind, and the language was back in the legislation.

"In between meetings, a number of senators felt that PRIDE has a long and distinguished record in working with inmates, helping them gain employment skills, life skills and other things they'll need when they complete their sentence to become productive members of society who can get and keep jobs," Negron said.

Afterward, Negron said he couldn't recall which senators spoke to him about PRIDE. Gaetz's spokeswoman, Katie Betta, said the Senate president supported the move. She said he had visited its facility and had been impressed and believed the rate of recidivism is lower among the inmates who work for PRIDE.

"He believes they're able to learn important job skills," Betta said.

Claims of PRIDE's success have been disputed. In 2007, Florida Corrections Secretary James McDonough complained that PRIDE does little to reduce recidivism, because it employs a stagnant 2 percent of inmates.

The Senate's action extends PRIDE's contract for one year and prevents the highway safety agency from seeking proposals from private firms to manufacture a redesigned license plate.

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Comments
North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

PUNGGYE-RI, North Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made good on his promise to demolish his country’s nuclear test site, which was formally closed in a series of huge explosions Thursday as a group of foreign journalists looked on. The explosi...
Published: 05/24/18
Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

President Donald Trump’s decision to block his Twitter followers for their political views is a violation of the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying that Trump’s effort to silence his critics is not permissible under the U.S. Con...
Published: 05/23/18
All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

TAMPA — All those public watch parties during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason run? And how about the rally at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park with the big white Lightning logo spray-painted on the grass? You need police to prote...
Published: 05/23/18
Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Explain this to me: In the world of partisan politics, how is being an independent thinker a bad thing? When it comes to general elections, we seem to like rogues and mavericks. We want outsiders and swamp scrubbers. Folks appreciate a good finger-...
Published: 05/22/18
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18
Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director after several Democrats were persuaded to support her despite lingering concerns about her role in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after ...
Published: 05/17/18
GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

WASHINGTON — Republicans are pushing for a speedy confirmation vote as early as Thursday after the Senate intelligence committee endorsed President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel to lead the spy agency. But opponents concerned about Haspel’s ...
Published: 05/16/18