05/14/06 — Lawmakers say state employee raise likely

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Lawmakers say state employee raise likely

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on May 14, 2006 2:03 AM

State employees have the best chance to see a significant pay raise that they have had in several years, legislators said Saturday.

Three Wayne area lawmakers met with members of the State Employees Association for breakfast at Wilber's Barbecue.

The General Assembly reconvened last week with more money available for projects than has been in state coffers in some time.

Sen. John Kerr and Reps. Louis Pate and Stephen LaRoque said they expect legislators to push for across-the-board pay raises for state employees during the session.

State employees said they have not been treated as well as teachers when it comes to pay increases in recent years. Kerr said lawmakers will try to rectify that situation.

"The general public has put teachers up on a different level than lawyers or anybody," Kerr said. "I believe we'll be able to get 5 percent, and that will be close to what the teachers get. But remember, this is one-time money. And if the economy doesn't come around, this might not keep on going."

"This is the first time in a long time we've heard the word surplus," said Paula Shoup of SEANC's political action committee.

Pate said one out of every four bills introduced in the House during the first week of the session included a 7 percent increase for all state employees and that he signed off on every one of them.

"This is not going to make rich people out of anybody, but I believe it will help," he said.

LaRoque said he signed off on the bills, too. He said he hopes that his fellow lawmakers will treat all state employees the same this year.

"We're all part of the same team," LaRoque said. And even if the increase ends up being only 5 percent, he said he believes that is a good beginning.

The association members said they also want the state to match dollar-for-dollar the mandated 6 percent that is taken out of their paychecks for retirement. Currently the state matches 2.7 percent.

"That's what they do in the private sector," LaRoque said. He said when he was a banker, his employer matched everything that was taken out for retirement, and the money helped him get through graduate school.

Such a measure would make good business sense, Pate added.

Kerr said he and LaRoque are working on a bill to help improve the retirement situation. But he urged the members to look at the entire benefits package.

"We've got a good system," Kerr said. "Eighty-nine percent of the people don't even have health insurance."

When the discussion turned to insurance, the lawmakers said state leaders need to take a serious look at the state's insurance policies.

Pate said young people who are earning good wages do not see the need for insurance and are not joining the insurance pool.

LaRoque said malpractice insurance is hurting doctors and forcing many to leave the state. The American Medical Association has declared North Carolina a state in crisis, he said. Tort reform would attack the root cause of the increase in health care costs, LaRoque added.

Kerr said the rising cost of insurance is a problem, not only for doctors, but for everyone.

"Nobody knows what to do with insurance. It's killing towns, counties. Nobody can afford it," he said.