- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The legislative committee that handles state workers’ contracts approved a raise Tuesday for state troopers but decided to give thousands of other state employees no increases over the next two years.

The Republican-controlled Joint Committee on Employment Relations voted unanimously to adopt a new contract for the troopers that would give them a 3 percent raise for fiscal year 2014 and a 3 percent raise for fiscal year 2015. They’d get the money in retroactive lump sums totaling nearly $2 million. They would continue to be paid 6 percent more than they were in 2012-13 going forward.

In exchange, the troopers would have to pay substantially more for their health insurance each months, with rates ranging from a few dozen more dollars per month for a single person to hundreds of dollars more for family coverage.

The contract must still pass both the Senate and Assembly and get Gov. Scott Walker’s signature, but committee approval signals passage is all but certain since both houses’ leaders sit on the panel. One of them is Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, whose father heads the state patrol.

Troopers haven’t had a pay raise since 2009. The committee rejected a plan in March that would have given them a 17 percent average pay increase after GOP leaders said their Senate and Assembly caucuses would never stand for such a steep raise.

The Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association, the troopers’ union, warned the committee in March that a 3 percent increase wouldn’t be enough to retain troopers. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, a committee member, complained that the raises aren’t in line with the $4-an-hour pay bump Gov. Scott Walker unilaterally gave members of the state patrol unit that protects him and questioned whether the new deal would solve the retention problem.

Gregory Gracz, director of the Office of State Employment Relations, told the committee the new contract doesn’t address the dignitary protection unit but pointed out troopers who leave the unit lose their $4 bump and fall back into the patrol’s regular pay scale. Both Gracz and Michael Marquardt, a state trooper from Reedsburg who sat on WLEA’s negotiating team, assured the committee the raises would at least help address the turnover issue.

State troopers were exempted from Walker’s 2011 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers over everything except pay raises to account for inflation. Most state workers got 1 percent raises in both 2013 and 2014.

The committee also voted 7-2 Tuesday to keep wages unchanged for 31,000 other state employees over the two-year period ending in mid-2017.

Marty Beil, executive director of the State executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, sent a memo to committee members ahead of the vote warning that the plan actually amounts to a pay cut given looming health insurance cost increases. The state insurance board voted in May to add deductibles of $250 for individuals and $500 for families and double the maximum out-out-of-pocket payments for $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for families.

Barca and the other Democrat on the committee, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, were the only dissenting votes. They both complained that the plan was released late Friday and no one has had time to fully digest it.

“Our net effect of how we treat people who work for the state of Wisconsin is to tell them … that once again, we’re asking them to make less over the next two years,” Barca said. “I think that’s a mistake.”

The no-raise provisions aren’t subject to full legislative approval. Barring any changes made through the state budget process - an unlikely prospect since the Legislature’s finance committee has nearly completed its work on the spending plan - the committee vote cemented the plan in place.

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