By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Pay raises are rare occurrences for most Arizona state employees, who rank last in the nation in average salary.
So it is understandable that many of the state government's 40,000 workers have been closely watching $3 million in salary increases tossed their way last year by the Legislature. That appropriation was meant to improve pay in those state jobs with salaries significantly below the rate paid in the private sector.
But that legislative decision does not mean that equal work gets equal pay in Arizona. Instead, pay raises seem to depend on where that work is done.
During a legislative committee meeting last month, Republican state Representative Laura Knaperek grilled bureaucrats from the Department of Administration about the distribution of $1.8 million in salary increases for state employees whose base pay was deemed to be at least 25 percent below market rates.
What rankled Knaperek was a complaint from a state worker who discovered that DOA used $286,700 of the appropriation to funnel hefty pay raises to accountants working at DOA--while giving no raises to workers in identical jobs in other state agencies.
"It became quite apparent that DOA had decided to use the ... money for their own employees and didn't spread it among the other agencies, which I believe was legislative intent," says Knaperek.
One of the classifications DOA identified for a salary increase was "fiscal service specialists"--that is, in English, accountants. Fifty-two accountants with college degrees working in DOA's General Accounting Office received an average $5,500 annual salary increase on January 1. Similarly credentialed accountants in other state agencies received--nothing.
DOA spokesman Spencer Kamps says the General Accounting Office accountants were 25 percent underpaid compared to accountants in other state agencies. As a result, he says, the accounting office was experiencing high turnover.
Furthermore, Kamps says, the General Accounting Office accountants do work that has "statewide responsibility," and therefore work under a burden other state accountants don't carry.
"These fiscal specialists are completely different in terms of statewide responsibility and are different than fiscal specialists in any other agency," Kamps says.
Needless to say, other fiscal service specialists, who toil away at demanding jobs and bring home less than $30,000 a year, have trouble seeing the distinction.
"As a fiscal service specialist with over four years of state service, undergraduate and graduate degrees in business, and certification as a management accountant, I have no doubt that my qualifications, abilities and professionalism meet, and likely exceed, those possessed by the majority of DOA employees benefiting from this action," says one state worker who does not work in the Department of Administration.
The employee, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, says all state accountants should have shared in the raise, not just those working at DOA.
Analysts for the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which monitors salary appropriations, agree.
"This allocation (to General Accounting Office accountants) conflicts with our general belief that (salary) adjustments are provided only when sufficient funding is available to address all positions in a job classification, across the entire personnel system," budget analyst Lynne Smith wrote in a November 21 memo to Knaperek.
Smith's memo also raises questions about whether DOA misled the Legislature when the agency released its salary distribution plan to the budget committee in August.
The DOA plan does not state that General Accounting Office accountants would receive pay raises while identical positions in other agencies would not, Smith's memo says.
Knaperek says DOA appears to have misled the committee by not explicitly stating that only DOA accountants would get raises.
"You give them legislative intent and you trust that is what they are going to carry out, and they don't," she says. "It's very frustrating."
Nonsense, says DOA spokesman Kamps.
"We made it clear from day one we were going to give these individuals raises," he says.
Knaperek says state employees excluded from the pay raise already are demanding the Legislature provide additional funding to equalize the salaries.
"This puts the Legislature in a very precarious situation," she says. "We gave money for equity raises, and they only gave one agency raises. So the employees in the other agencies will want raises, too."
DOA reviewed pay scales for all state agencies except the judiciary, the Department of Public Safety and the state universities, which received separate appropriations to upgrade base salaries.
In total, nearly $2.9 million was distributed to different job categories throughout the state. Half of the money was spread across 1,672 employees, who received an average pay hike of $900.
The average increase for DOA accountants--$5,500--was the largest pay boost. Capitol police received the next highest average increase: 25 officers divided $98,800 in additional pay, for an average hike of nearly $4,000.
Other large distributions include: $140,900 to 41 economists, for an average annual salary increase of $3,437; $408,500 to 124 buyer/purchasers, reflecting an average salary increase of $3,294; $351,700 for 168 revenue auditors, which provided an average pay hike of $2,093; and $173,500 to 86 librarians, who will receive an average increase of $2,017.