02/27/2013 06:10 pm ET

Paul LePage Finance Chief Warns Against State Worker Pay Freeze: Hard To Keep 'Qualified' Employees

The finance chief for Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is urging the state legislature to stop freezing merit pay for government workers, warning that freezes make it hard to recruit and keep talented employees.

"It's getting more and more visible as we work our way through this period of frozen salaries," Sawin Millett told the Maine Legislature's budget committee on Tuesday, according to the Bangor Daily News. "The number of qualified applicants and the desire for them to move within state government has been somewhat exacerbated by the lack of merit increases over time. If you're a valued employee and you're in a position where you're doing good work and your salary has been frozen for four years, there's a tendency on the part of many dedicated employees to do that."

Millett's comments are notable because he is a Republican appointee of LePage, whose most recent budget proposal would continue a four-year freeze on both merit and longevity pay raises for state workers. The governor also wants to reduce the state workforce by 100 people.

Millett added that the Maine state government has "fallen behind in our ability to send a positive message to employees, driven by inadequate resources and the inability to make that kind of gesture not just at the bargaining table, but in day-to-day decisions."

"We're sitting on some very valued employees who haven’t seen a raise in, in some cases, four years," he said.

Christopher Quint, executive director of the Maine State Employees Association, told the Bangor Daily News that it was the first time he had heard a member of the LePage administration make such remarks.

On the federal level, Republicans have also tried to block pay increases for government workers. The Republican-controlled House recently voted to extend a freeze on cost-of-living adjustments for federal employees, whereas the White House plans to include a 1 percent pay increase in its 2014 budget.

A 2012 study by the Federal Salary Council concluded that federal employees make 34.6 percent less pay on average than their private sector counterparts. In 2011, the gap was 26.3 percent.



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