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Jindal request for better reform tips aggressive agenda

If his reaction to a proposed pay plan change for classified state employees is any indication, Gov. Bobby Jindal may be looking to swing for the fences in 2010.

Late last year, the State Civil Service Commission approved a change that would tie specific pay raises to performance levels, with better evaluated performances earning higher pay. It would allow exceptions to those with SCSC approval. The current system gives a flat raise to anybody scoring in the three highest performance categories which in 2008-09 turned out to be 98.4 percent of those rated, if the Legislature and governor authorizes one, although the Director of Civil Service can waive or halt these if budgetary difficulties are demonstrated.

This certainly was better than the prior system as it provided more rewards for higher achievers and provided incentives for lower achievers to improve or to leave the system. But Jindal vetoed this good reform, saying it was not as flexible as another proposal that had failed to gain passage which would set the percentage increase targets as discretionary maximums decided on a case-by-case basis by agencies, and would leave the ability to grant variances in the hands of the director.

The main reason why Jindal found this objectionable was because the adjustment in the scale, where adequate performers automatically would get a three percent, good performers four percent, and outstanding performers six percent, cures only a symptom and not the major disease that inhibits creation of a compensation adjustment regime that truly would reflect merit and encourage more efficient work: that the current distribution of evaluations simply is not credible and biased well to the high side. For 2008-09, about a third of evaluated employees were placed in the middle “meets expectations” category, almost half were in the higher “exceed expectations” category, and about a seventh were in the highest “outstanding” category. The last proportion might be realistic, but it is way too much to believe that four-fifths of the state’s classified work force is in the other two categories to be valid.

The DSCS has discussed with the SCSC reforming the evaluation process to make it more realistic, so this call for the unapproved previous plan is Jindal’s way of putting pressure on them to do so and to have a backup in case they don’t. Simply, if no genuine ratings will occur, agencies (on direction by the governor) would have the option of setting their own, lower levels than the 3/4/6 scheme under the governor-backed plan.

Jindal will get his way, and in time for the 2010 fiscal year. Not only does he appoint all but one of the SCSC members and can threaten not to reappoint if thwarted, but also he can inform them that it the change isn’t made, he’ll veto any legislative attempt to provide a pay raise according to the present four percent flat regime which the Legislature will not override. Raises will be given his way or not at all, and the change will happen.

This signals that Jindal isn’t content to settle for staying inside the park on this issue, but wants to hit a homer. If he brings that attitude to the legislative session this year (as one of his key allies predicts), there could be a lot of dramatic change and fireworks in the offing.

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