MADISON, Wis. — Most Wisconsin state workers and employees at the University of Wisconsin System will receive a 1 percent pay raise starting Sunday, after a legislative committee unanimously approved Gov. Scott Walker's proposal.
The Republican-controlled committee approved the plan on Wednesday, even though the panel's two Democrats said the raise was paltry given that increased pension and health care costs over the past two years equated to a 12 percent to 14 percent pay cut.
The pay raise is the first for UW workers and non-union covered employees since 2008. It's the first raise for formerly union-covered workers since 2009. The plan covers about 41,000 permanent and temporary state workers and about 24,000 UW workers.
In addition to the 1 percent raise, anyone earning less than $15 an hour would receive a 25-cent per hour salary bump.
"One percent doesn't even hold the workers even," said Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union. "I think they made it 1 percent by throwing a dart at a dart board."
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos defended the raise, saying it was a sign the state's finances were improving after years in which salaries were frozen while pension and health care costs went up. He called the raise "well-deserved."
But the two Democrats on the committee — Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca and Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson — said the raise was meager and wouldn't keep pace with inflation or make up for the increased pension and health insurance contributions. Larson said given those factors it wasn't truly a raise, "but it's getting there."
Barca said, "One percent is about as modest as you could possibly make it and give any raise whatsoever."
Barca also said public employees should be more involved in discussions with the administration over working conditions, but Vos dismissed that as being an unnecessary burden.
The pay raise plan also gives state agency heads too much discretion in deciding who will get the raise, even though enough money is provided to have it apply to everyone, Beil said.
"It's totally discretionary," Beil said.
State workers are eligible for merit raises and not every worker is under the same pay schedule. Under the state budget awaiting Walker's approval, assistant district attorneys will receive a different set of automatic raises.
State workers used to negotiate salary increases as part of the collective bargaining process with the governor's administration. Walker effectively did away with collective bargaining for most public workers in 2011, leaving it to his administration to set the pay plans covering wage increases and other terms of employment.
Elected officials will get the same level pay increase as state employees, but they won't take effect until after the 2014 election. State lawmakers' salaries will increase from $49,943 to $50,950 and the governor's salary will go from $144,423 to $147,328.
Under the approved pay plan, the 1 percent raise at UW could be used to give faculty and academic staff across-the-board raises, or more targeted merit pay raises or increases targeted to retain highly valued workers.
Bill Tracy, president of the group that represents faculty on the UW-Madison campus, issued a statement in support of the raise "even though it falls well short of what we truly need to be competitive."
Tracy, who is chair of the agronomy department at UW-Madison, said it would take an 11.6 percent pay increase to bring faculty pay to the median level of peer institutions.
"Other universities know our faculty are underpaid and easy pickings, and they are willing to open their check books," Tracy said.
The two-year cost of paying for the UW faculty salary increases would be $52.4 million. The cost for the state plan, which includes some UW workers, would be $90.2 million. The state portion for both plans, about $65 million, was included in the state budget passed last week by the Legislature that Walker plans to sign Sunday.