Pay raises return for state workers: rewards merit and excellence

DENVER — State workers will be eligible for merit pay raises for the first time in four years, thanks to a reform of the personnel system that Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law Wednesday.

Hickenlooper said the bill was the first significant change in the way the state hires, pays and fires workers in 40 years.

State workers have had to do “more with less” in an era of tight budgets, he said.

“If you can’t reward people when they’re going above and beyond, it’s very hard to maintain morale,” Hickenlooper said.

House Bill 1321 sets up a new merit pay system, to be funded by unspent money in each department’s payroll budget. Raises will be targeted toward deserving employees who are stuck at the lower end of the pay scale for their jobs.

The bill also eliminates the practice of “bumping.” Until now, an employee who was laid off could return to a previous state job and bump out a less-senior worker.

Bumping is disruptive to departments and hard on morale, Hickenlooper said.

Other parts of the bill address how the state hires new employees, but they will not take effect unless voters pass a ballot initiative this November.

The state constitution establishes much of the personnel system, so the Legislature has to ask voters’ permission to change it. The question will appear as Amendment S on ballots this fall.

Democrats, Republicans and the state employees union all backed the reforms after long negotiations, sponsors said.

The new system rewards merit and excellence, said Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, a sponsor of the bill.

“I think that’s what we need to be doing for all the employees of the state of Colorado,” King said.

Paul Boni, a laboratory coordinator at the University of Colorado at Boulder, spoke on behalf of the state employees’ union, Colorado WINS.

“State employees have taken it on the chin for about 10 years now, with a dysfunctional pay system, layoffs, increasing workloads, increasing health care costs,” Boni said. “This bill finally gets us going forward and lays the foundation for the first raise any of us have seen in four years.”