CHEYENNE — The current government efficiency study by the Alvarez and Marsel consulting group hasn’t received much attention from the general public.
Legislators and state government officials are interested, of course, and so is the Wyoming Public Employees Association.
The latter, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, has about 2,000 members that includes employees of the state and the local school district.
The union reps are watching to be sure the million of dollars of savings the consultants are promising don’t come out of employee’s benefits, Deputy Director Tim Thorson said recently.
Those benefits are the proverbial “low-hanging fruit,” so easy for picking.
Thorson mentioned the consultants’ study for the state of Kansas by Alvarez and Marsel, the same firm Wyoming hired.
One of their recommendations was for sweeping changes in healthcare coverage.
If they were adopted, the state would offer only high deductible health plans and tie employee health savings and health reimbursement accounts to their participation in wellness programs.
The Kansas Legislature a couple of years ago rejected that recommendation and another to change the purchasing practices for schools. Apparently nothing has been adopted since then.
Supporters of the Kansas study criticized the Legislature’s inaction as a waste of millions paid to the consultants.
But then this is Kansas, the state that cut taxes sharply with the aim of stimulating economic development. It didn’t work and Kansas wound up with a $800 million budget deficit which triggered a sizable tax increase.
The Wyoming Legislature this year approved a pay raise for state employees. During a WPEA meeting at the library last month, director Betty Jo Beardsley announced first of all that there would be no membership increase this year. Then she explained how the $1.8 million the Legislature allocated for pay adjustments for the two-year biennium will work.
Employees who earn less than $80,000 minimum market pay for the position get a 2.5 percent raise. Those earning more than $80,000 will not get a raise but will be eligible for a bonus.
It is the first salary increase for state employees since 2015.
Beardsley noted that the school district pays 92 percent of their employee health care costs.
Thorson, meanwhile, spoke briefly about the public image of state employees. He held up a copy of a guest column written by former legislator Amy Edmonds in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
In it, Edmonds blamed the state’s budget problems on growing government during the boom years — increasing services and spending.
To many people, that conclusion translates to an excess of state employees who are paid too much money.
In fact, the state’s budget problems are much more fundamental than a hike in spending when the money was abundant. And more services are in demand.
But it’s so easy to make the state employees the scapegoat.
Although there are national stories claiming a movement against the power of unions, the WPEA is doing OK, with membership steady.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision last year said unions cannot mandate public employees to pay dues. The ruling doesn’t affect Wyoming, which became a right-to-work state decades ago.
Beardsley, the long-time director of the WPEA and a top lobbyist, said she isn’t overly concerned about the development since it doesn’t change anything locally. She also said her group has a good relationship with the governor’s office past and present.