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State workers may receive smaller raises

By Cyndy Cole
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday Feb. 25, 2002

House, Senate could begin negotiating 2.5 percent pay increase this week

State employees, including UA faculty and staff, may receive smaller-than-expected pay raises this year, but Senate Democrats say they oppose eliminating them entirely as Gov. Jane Dee Hull proposed.

The Democrats have hinted that they may negotiate this week with House Republicans who also want to eliminate pay raises. A compromise could lead to a pay raise smaller than the 5 percent increase approved late last year.

Last Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Ruth Solomon, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said she was committed to keeping 5 percent raises scheduled for distribution to all public employees April 1.

But by Friday, Solomon began making noises that Democrats may have to compromise. She may be willing to come closer to a proposal by Senate Republican Leader Ken Bennett for a 2.5 percent pay increase to be distributed June 15.

One of Solomon's staffers said in an interview Friday that Solomon would compromise on the pay raises if it made sense to do so.

Republican House Speaker Jim Weiers and Democratic Senate President Randall Gnant have shut down all other legislative business until a 2001-2002 budget is approved.

Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate are deadlocked over whether to approve raises for public employees, with Democrats in the equally-divided Senate declaring they will vote to keep full raises and representatives in the Republican-controlled House voting to remove the raises completely from the budget.

If Solomon and the 14 other Democratic senators were to block all budgets from the House that removed the pay raises, as the senators vowed to do during a rally Wednesday, the pay raises would take effect automatically on April 1.

Yet such a move could be costly in an election year for legislators who want to finish the budget, move bills through and get out on the road to campaign for reelection this November, said Greg Fahey, University of Arizona associate vice president for government relations.

Getting the pay increases this year is Fahey's top priority, he said, because if the raises are implemented this year, it is likely they will remain next year.

"I'm optimistic that we'll get something," Fahey said. "The UA's goal is 5 percent raises for April 1, as the Legislature has already approved and re-approved."

If the raises are not implemented this year, getting them in what is likely to be an even bleaker financial situation for the state next year would be much more difficult, Fahey said.

Implementing the raises would cost the state approximately $25 million for the fiscal year ending June 31, and $100 million in 2003 - money Hull and House Republicans say the state does not have.

The state is facing a $200 million budget shortfall this year, and is expecting a $1 billion deficit in 2003.

In related news, the University of Arizona and the Arizona Board of Regents will respond today or tomorrow to Hull's request for an additional $30 million budget cut to pay for salary increases, said Board of Regents spokesman Matt Ortega.


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