- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration wants to scrap pay raises for Louisiana’s state workers next year, saying the state can’t afford them.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne asked the Civil Service Commission on Wednesday to block annual “performance adjustments” for nearly 40,000 rank-and-file government workers, called classified employees, in the budget year that begins July 1.

“I don’t relish the opportunity to come before you with this particular request,” said Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser. But he added: “Given the crisis we’re dealing with right now, this is an appropriate action that we’re asking you to take.”

The Edwards administration intends to similarly freeze pay raises for the tens of thousands of political appointees, known as unclassified workers, in the Cabinet agencies under its control, Dardenne told the commission.

The Civil Service Commission didn’t make a decision on the request, voting 5-2 to delay a determination until June.

Dardenne cited Louisiana’s continuing budget problems, with a $600 million shortfall estimated next year and deep cuts proposed across state government agencies. He stressed the administration was seeking a temporary suspension, hoping that in later years the state’s finances will improve.

Commission member Ronald Carrere said some state workers have gone without salary increases for six or seven years, and he worried agencies could lose valued workers and have difficulty recruiting new people.

“We have some dedicated state employees who chose to stay here during tough times,” Carrere said.

Under civil service guidelines, state workers are eligible to receive a raise up to 4 percent a year if they receive a positive annual job evaluation.

Amid years of budget cuts, agencies that rely less heavily on general state tax revenue have been able to give raises while others have withheld the pay hikes, creating unequal treatment across departments. At least $8 million in raises were granted to thousands of state workers across Louisiana government agencies this budget year, carrying a price tag that will grow to at least $15 million next year when they are annualized.

Commission member Scott Hughes said he worried about disparities in the ways pay raises currently are doled out amid the ongoing budget cuts, saying it’s created a “system of haves and have-nots.”

Dardenne said a temporary suspension would provide some uniformity.

In recent years, the commission has twice voted to suspend pay raises for rank-and-file workers entirely - in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 budget years - at the request of then-Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Edwards’ request wouldn’t affect pay hikes tied to promotions, other job advancements and increased workloads.

Commission members suggested the request was premature. They noted the budget for next year hasn’t been completed - and the governor is planning to call a June special session to try to raise additional tax revenue to stave off cuts.

They said they’d like more information about how much money the suspension of pay raises could save the state, an estimate Dardenne didn’t have Wednesday.

“I would like to see how the state budget plays out a little bit more,” Hughes said.

Commission Chairman David Duplantier argued against postponing a decision, noting Dardenne said even if the $600 million gap was closed, the budget still wouldn’t include money for raises.

“Thirty days is not going to change anything,” Duplantier said.

Housing authorities and levee boards that don’t rely on state financing but fall under civil service oversight are requesting to be exempt from the suspension, saying refusal to give those pay hikes won’t save the state any money.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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