Okla. lawmakers eye performance pay for workers

OKLAHOMA CITY -- State workers in Oklahoma, who haven't seen a pay increase since 2006, shouldn't expect an across-the-board salary boost anytime soon, but several state leaders said Tuesday they support the idea of raises tied to performance reviews and private-sector wages.

The chairman of the powerful House Appropriations and Budget Committee and the secretary of finance both said that while they oppose the idea of set pay increases for all state workers, they are willing to support a performance-pay system.

Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, one of the governor's top budget negotiators, stopped short of saying it would be included in Gov. Mary Fallin's next budget proposal, but he added: "It's something we're talking about."

The last pay hike for state workers was an across-the-board 5 percent increase in 2006 when Democrats controlled the state Senate and the governor's office. Republicans are now in control of the legislature and the governor's office, and Doerflinger said targeted pay increases is in line with fiscal conservatism.

"If we begin to utilize performance appraisals in an appropriate manner, we will begin to be able to identify what I like to call `rock stars' or people who rise to the top," Doerflinger told members of the House budget panel Tuesday. "It also allows you to coach people who are not performing at the level you would expect, and additionally, move poor performers out of your organization."

Sterling Zearley, the executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said he is working with state Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, to develop a multi-year plan that would boost state worker pay to at least 80 percent of the private-sector average and then develop a plan that would give the highest performers among Oklahoma's 34,000 state workers a pay increase.

"I think it's a great idea, because you need to make sure you're paying employees that are performing well," Zearley said. "You have some positions now that are 40 to 50 percent below market. You've got to bring that position itself somewhere toward market."

Because the pay-for-performance matrix hasn't been developed, there were no projections on how much it would cost the state.

State Rep. Earl Sears, the chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, said while he believes it's possible lawmakers could approve a salary boost and a cut in the state income tax, he said state leaders would first need to see how much revenues grow before next year's session that begins in February.

"I think it's too early to say," said Sears, R-Bartlesville. "I think we can, but by the same token, until we see all the pieces of that puzzle ... there's just a lot of factors that need to go into that."


Sean Murphy can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy