I got a tip this morning that a decision was coming shortly on authorization of release of money for merit pay raises for state employees. The suggestion was the news wouldn't be good. Indeed, the Arkansas State Employees Association
Facebook page said at one point the money would not be forthcoming, then later amended the comment to say no decision was final.
I asked Department of Finance Administration spokesman Jake Bleed and he said:
As of the moment, no decision has been made regarding merit raises. We will be issuing guidance on that shortly.
He later advised that the decision would probably be next week.
My tipster suggested that, in this time of tight budgets, I should also inquire about pay raises in the governor's office since Jan. 1. I did so. Bleed responded:
As far as raises for specific state employees, while we have that information, it would be considered personnel files for purposes of FOIA, and I would be required to issue the usual notifications prior to release.
He referred me to the state transparency website. That website is, in my experience, not always up to date or reliable and ineffective in tracking changing pay rates. So we'll pursue an FOI request on pay changes in the governor's office and see if the Hutchinson believes taxpayers are entitled to that information. With the procedure intends to follow, it could take a while even if they accede.
Accountability Arkansas, circa 2017.
The merit pay money is in Category B of the Revenue Stabilization Act. That category took a $70 million cut for the last two months of this year on account of revenue shortfalls. The governor has said no jobs or services would be cut as a result, but the merit pay question was left open. The governor has also cut $43 million from Category B in the budget NEXT year. The merit pay for the next year is also covered there.
The state pay plan underwent a restructuring in the legislative session. About 56 percent of employees moved to new minimum pay (at a cost of $56 million, according to the Arkansas State Employees Association). The rest will get a 1 percent raise next year.