TALLAHASSEE -- For the first time in seven years, state lawmakers have agreed to give Florida's employees automatic salary increases, ending a bleak stretch for a 150,000-member workforce that's weathered cutbacks, pay reductions and slashed benefits.
The House and Senate agreed Saturday to pay those making less than $40,000 an automatic $1,400 across-the-board increase. Those making more than $40,000 will receive a $1,000 raise. On top of that, merit raises of up to $600 could be available as well.
In all, for those 70 percent of employees who make less than $40,000, it could mean a bump 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 the House and Senate Republican leaders as they negotiate next year's $74 billion budget, which goes into effect on July 1. The raises, however, don't kick in until Oct. 1.
"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 Chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart. "Both (Senate President Don Gaetz) and House Speaker (Will Weatherford) wanted to, as our revenue picture has improved, wanted to show that in a tangible way through a salary increase."
It's similar to an automatic pay raise of $1,200 Gov. Rick Scott proposed for all state workers.
The proposed legislative increase will cost about $200 million, plus an additional $10.3 million for Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers and staff. For the 4,000 employees in state law enforcement, they 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 for law enforcement. "Wwe spend a lot of money training the troopers, then they get hired away by local governments. They are in high demand.
"The current system if you have eight or 10 years experience, you're making little more than someone who is just starting. That's why we set it up that way," Negron said.