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Over 500 Oklahoma State Employees Received Raises Of At Least $5,000

Oklahoma state capitol
Jacob McCleland

Despite a budget shortfall of approximately $1.3 billion, some Oklahoma state employees received a pay increase during the current fiscal year. The Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services provided documents to The Oklahoman which show 554 state employees received raises of at least $5,000.

Reporter Rick Green writes the raises came during a time that lawmakers cut appropriations to state agencies during a difficult financial situation caused by a downturn in the oil industry, tax cuts and industry tax credits.

Jonathan Small of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs said the salary increases prove Oklahoma’s current revenue is sufficient for state government to function.

"The fact that state agencies are being able to provide needed salary increases during tough budget times is a sign that things are not as dire as people would try to say and that you can still provide core services for government without increasing taxes," Small said.

Lawmakers are looking at a revenue shortfall of approximately $900,000 during the current fiscal year. Legislative leaders are floating several proposals, including tax increases on cigarettes and motor fuel, and expanding the sales tax to include services currently not taxed.

Green writes that the compensation level of some of the 554 state employees who got raises did not seem exorbitant.

An equipment operator for the Transportation Department had a $5,000 increase, which brought his yearly salary to $25,000. A procurement officer for the Wildlife Conservation Department had a $33,600 salary after a $5,000 boost. A number of Tax Commission auditors got $9,000 increases, leaving them with a salary of $41,346. The commission boosted salaries in an attempt to hire new auditors in line with legislation intended to "discover and reduce fraud and abuse of sales and use tax exemptions."

Other salary increases were larger. The Oklahoma Health Department’s Kristy K. Bradley received a raise of $17,000, which brought her yearly salary to $130,000. The Grand River Dam Authority’s assistant general manager, Tim Brown, got a raise of $10,000, bringing his annual salary to $200,000.

The salary data did not include employees of Oklahoma System of Higher Education.

Shelley Zumwalt, spokesperson of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, said there are several reasons why some employees received raises. Job consolidation led some workers to take on additional duties, and others were given an increase to bring salaries in line with similar positions at other employers.

Oklahoma Public Employees Association spokesman Tom Dunning told The Oklahoman only a small percentage of the state’s 34,000 public employees raised a raise.

"Currently, correctional officers' salaries average around $30,000 annually and social workers' pay is around $32,000 per year," he said. "Oklahoma needs a long-range compensation plan, including an immediate salary increase for underpaid state employees, to fix the state employee pay problem or we will continue to waste money on turnover and won't be able to keep quality state employees."

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Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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