State workers shouldn't look for pay hikes soon

Those who believe higher wages are on the agenda are ignoring reality.

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Is Washington state becoming Greece?

It's not that the state capital is Olympia that has us wondering, but the sense of entitlement too often coming out of that Greek-named city.

Last week the state Department of Personnel released results of a survey it commissioned on how state wages and benefits compare to the private sector. It was found that overall state employees are paid less than their private-sector counterparts although state workers usually have better health-care coverage and other benefits.

OK, we'd say that's a wash. Many state employees could probably make a few more dollars in the private sector, but they would probably spend that pay or more on health-care insurance and medical care.

The current recession has pinched state government and cuts have had to be made. Jobs have been lost and some wages have been frozen. Taxes have also been raised, which by the way squeezes the private sector. Employees and employers have all felt the economic pain of the recession.

In addtion, the law of supply and demand applies. If the state isn't having trouble finding good employees, then the pay doesn't need to be increased.

Yet, comments regarding the pay-and-benefit survey from the state Department of Personnel seem to have been made in a bubble isolated from reality.

Department of Personnel Director Eva Santos apparently sees lower wages as cause for concern.

"It validates that we still have the same problems we had before. It doesn't change the picture," Santos said, adding "a third of state job classes are about 25 percent below the market," and "I can say there are some jobs that lost ground" since the previous report in 2007.

She then goes on to say that some state workers -- about 18 percent -- earn more than their private-sector or public-sector counterparts elsewhere. But that, apparently, isn't a problem.

This study is being twisted to paint a bleak picture of compensation for state employees. The timing stinks. The state's economy is still shaky.

Higher wages for state employees aren't in the picture, nor should they be until the economy recovers and the private sector -- the folks paying the tab through taxes -- has stabilized.

Washington state isn't Greece. State workers are not entitled to higher wages year after year. Nor is the state allowed to pay government workers more and more with borrowed money.

The study of pay and benefits isn't a validation of problems, as Santos suggests, but a validation of reality. If we ignore that reality, the state does become Greece.

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