State Sen. Bill Montford still is in shock that Florida is on the precipice of giving a raise to its state workers.
“If you had told me a year ago today that we would be talking about a substantial pay raise for state employees and teachers, I would not have believed it," said Montford, D-Tallahassee. "I would not have thought that possible."
The Republican-majority Legislature will include a pay raise for state workers in the budget proposal it sends to GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Lawmakers, however, still need to close a $1.5 billion gap in their proposed spending plans this week to close out the 2020 legislative session. But one bargaining chip that has been removed from the table is a 3% salary increase for the 90,000 people employed by the state.
House and Senate negotiators went with the Senate across-the-board raise plan over the weekend instead of the House proposal. That was to give an $1,800 bump to workers making less than $50,000 a year. And a raise for public school teachers is still being negotiated.
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DeSantis had recommended a plan to boost the minimum pay for teachers to $47,500 a year but the Legislature never warmed to that proposal. Instead, House and Senate negotiators appear to be close to agreement on $500 million to increase the salaries of the state’s lowest paid teachers.
In 2013 and 2017 state workers earning less than $40,000 per year received a $1,000 raise and those making less than $40,000 received a $1,400 increase. But workers lost 3% of their pay by a mandated pension contribution in 2011.
Montford, who represents more than 20,000 state workers in his north Florida district, said it bothered him that state workers got just one stand-alone salary increase in his 10 years in office. He said he made an across-the-board increase his No. 1 priority for his final session; Montford is term-limited this year.
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“I said often, 'I’m not leaving this place until we give these people a pay raise, and when you all said you were going to get rid of me I was hoping this was what you meant,' ” Montford told fellow lawmakers when the pay package came up for debate on the Senate floor.
Contract negotiations between the American Federation of County, State and Municipal Employees broke down in November. When the labor union representing about 40,000 members of the state workforce had requested a 5% hike, the Department of Management Services offered zero and bumped the issue up to the Legislature.
While lawmakers crafted a plan to not only include a raise for workers but also to address low pay for public school teachers, AFSCME members wrote letters to lawmakers and held rallies in five cities to publicize the low pay and working conditions in state government.
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They argued that while earnings for the average worker in Florida had increased by 26% since 2010, the average state worker had seen a 7% ($2,800) increase, according to federal and state records.
Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, has voted against seven state budgets in her career, "generally because of state employee pay and benefit issues," she said.
"I am pleased that the House and Senate are finally recognizing the hard work of our state employees," she said. A state worker pay raise "should be the rule, not the exception."
Ausley, like fellow House members Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, and Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe, is quick to point out that Florida posts the lowest per-capita cost per state worker and lowest number of state workers among the 50 states.
Added Kelly Benjamin, spokesman for AFSCME, on the raise: “We’re happy (state workers') plight has been highlighted this session, and we hope this is the beginning of a trend for future budgets.”
James Call is part of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @CallTallahassee.
This story originally published to tallahassee.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.