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State workers seek larger pay raise

5:50 PM, Dec 20, 2013   |    comments
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DENVER - The state of Colorado is the biggest employer in the state of Colorado, which means the money those workers earn has an impact on both the economy at large and on our tax dollars.

Heading into the holidays, state workers are trying to build the case that they deserve a bigger raise than Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) is proposing.

The state has more than 31,000 classified employees because it takes a lot of people to do all the things the state government does.

Prisons need guards, highways need maintenance crews, and diseases need to be monitored and fought by people like Andres Guerrero.

"Oh yeah, we get reports of new cases every day of hepatitis in the state," Guerrero said.

He is one of five people who keeps tabs on viral hepatitis full-time.

If all is well, you don't hear about his line of work, people only tend to pay attention if the disease scores a victory.

"Whether it's a meningitis outbreak or a listeria outbreak, that's when people think about public health," Guerrero said. "But in reality there's many, many people working behind the scenes constantly to make sure people's air is safe, people's water is safe, that diseases are being prevented and controlled."

Last year, Guerrero and his fellow state workers got their first pay raise in five years.

In the great recession, the cost of rent and food went up but pay didn't.

But lately the economy is improving, which means more taxes paid to the state.

"I wouldn't call it swimming in money," said Henry Sobanet, the governor's budget chief.

Sobanet says Gov. Hickenlooper isn't being stingy, but he is trying to stretch those tax dollars.

Hickenlooper wants to give state workers a 1.5 percent raise for cost of living next year and let them earn up to another 1.5 percent as a merit pay raise for good performance.

The Governor's plan costs roughly $52 million.

"Keep pace with inflation, acknowledge people have gone without a raise, but also provide some incentives to earn a little more than the average employee," Sobanet said of the plan.

"I think it's not enough, I think we need three percent," said Guerrero.

That's what the state workers union wants for cost of living, enough to match inflation, in addition to the chance to earn performance pay.

"We need a little bit more than that because of the fact that we haven't had anything for four years," Guerrero said.

Ultimately state lawmakers will decide.

Last year the Democratic majority gave state workers a little more than the Governor proposed.

The union hopes for a repeat in 2014, despite the fact that Democrats have a smaller majority thanks to this year's recall elections.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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