House Sends Contested Pay Raise Bill to Keating

Article excerpt

A state-employee pay hike bill that one state House member called a "disgusting, downright shame" for tying the $2,000 salary increase to sizable boosts in judicial pay went to Gov. Frank Keating Thursday by a vote of 91-4 after its conference report was adopted by a close 52-40.

Rep. Mike Mass, D-Hartshorne, said that Senate Bill 959 stalled in the Senate for about a month while Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, developed a way to give Oklahoma judges and justices pay raises, some as high as $16,000.

Mass said that a state-employed licensed practical nurse who makes $18,000 in gross pay may bring home $1,000 per month or less. He traced a litany of routine monthly financial needs for a single parent, which he said could top well over $1,200 even with conservative estimates of costs for rent, food, utilities and the like.

More than 5,000 state employees earn salaries below the poverty level, he said.

"This is not bad -- it's an atrocity," he said.

Mass said it is inequitable to give state employees a pay hike of only $2,000 when their health insurance premiums are scheduled for a substantial increase.

"It's a disgusting, downright shame," he said of the bill.

Rep. Charles Gray, D-Oklahoma City, whose wife is a district judge, said the judiciary does not need a pay increase. He pointed out that some district judges make $85,511 per year while some state- employee secretaries earn as little as $13,000.

Gray, who had instructions on the clerk's desk to return the measure to conference and remove the judicial increases, said that if the judges want pay raises, they can be done separately.

"We shouldn't do this on the backs of state employees," he said.

Rep. Bill Paulk, D-Oklahoma City, termed the measure "disgusting and devious" because it tied the worthy to the unworthy and the poor to the financially well-off.

"We kept the state employees poor," he said. "It's disgusting, it's disappointing, it's devious. …

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