Lingering distrust of a political past versus current budget realities were resolved by Gov. Bobby Jindal in favor of not just his swinging for the fences, but with the bases loaded regarding pay scales for classified state government employees.
Presently, the state offers an all-or-nothing annual pay raise of four percent to its classified employees which make up over 60 percent of the state’s total full-time workforce, if they achieve a performance rating as satisfactory or better which in recent years around 99 percent of those evaluated have gotten. Jindal has wanted this changed to make raises actually reflect performance and to give agency heads greater budgetary discretion in awarding pay raises.
This led the Department of State Civil Service to create a set of alternatives of which the State Civil Service Commission first chose a mild improvement that graduated pay scales according to scoring on evaluations for the highest three categories and SCSC approval of deviations. But Jindal vetoed that early this year as insufficiently flexible. The SCSC then approved a more extensive improvement that did not lock raise levels for all agencies, lowered the maximum levels, and allowed flexibility by agencies across all categories in the case of layoffs. Last week, Jindal vetoed this, again citing the same reason.
Now, Jindal writes that the rationale to allow rewarding at any of lowered but fixed rates, somewhere below them, or not at all must have no conditions – this can happen not only related to a reduction-in-force situation. Such a criticism points to his belief that only one of the two most revolutionary plans originally estimated will suffice (although it is unclear whether he actually ever has publically and unambiguously stated this). That one flaw reveals that Jindal does not trust supervisors to make realistic judgments in evaluations which could, as he terms, make the system less a pay-for-performance plan and retain more of its cost-of-living aspect.
Obviously, he has good reason to think so, despite SCSC indications that they will deal with the overrating phenomenon, given the past scenario of unrealistically inflated scores. A plan that gives total discretion to agencies to determine actual increase percentages largely would negate the ability of supervisors to be too generous, as detection of this tendency by agency heads could be countered with lowering the percentages used for each category. Fiscal stress would not be a necessary condition for this to happen under Jindal’s request as opposed to the plan just refused.
In essence, Jindal rejected the certainty of a good plan for the probability of a great plan. This is despite the fact that for the upcoming fiscal year the two would have been indistinguishable in most cases as huge projected budget deficits would mean layoffs again for most if not all agencies in state government. Thus, Jindal intends any change not only for short-term convenience for him, but also that which will last over the long term.
Yet this strategy carries some political risk. A plan only can go into effect at the Jul. 1 beginning of the fiscal year and it’s being left rather late for 2010-11. While the process can begin with the SCSC’s next monthly meeting, the earliest it can go through it all (including collecting, if the past two iterations prove anything, a considerable number of negative state employee comments) is June 8 or 9, less than a month before the end of the legislative session and the beginning of the fiscal year. While it is unlikely since six of the seven SCSC members are gubernatorial appointees, a revolt among them or other bizarre circumstances might mean the deadline gets missed and another year would pass under the current system.
If so, to save money that would mean Jindal would have to repeat what he did this current year, deny any money for any raises. This would cause the deserving classified employees to suffer as well as the undeserving to be denied for two straight years, damaging morale and fomenting more opposition to Jindal’s expected reelection bid among this constituency that any changed pay regime could. To try to dramatically change the game with one swing of the bat and the sacks full carries risk, but in this instance it’s one that appears likely to succeed with the maximum payoff.