The Alaska Senate approved a bill Wednesday evening that would allow certain state employees in Juneau to receive an additional 5 percent in their salaries because of where they work.
Senate Bill 95, which Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, carried on the Senate floor Tuesday, establishes a table of “geographic pay differentials” to give eligible state workers in certain communities some extra money in their salaries.
Juneau, Douglas and Auke Bay are among the communities where workers have a 5 percent geographic pay differential under the bill. Some communities, like Kotzebue and Unalaska, have a geographic pay differential as high as 60 percent, while many others — including Anchorage, Ketchikan and Wasilla — have no geographic pay differential at all.
State employees must be “classified and partially exempt employees in the executive branch of the state government who are not members of a collective bargaining unit” or work for the Alaska State Legislature to be paid according to the salary schedule that is modified by the geographic pay differential table.
The bill also provides for judges to receive a geographic cost-of-living adjustment based on the geographic pay differentials on $100,000 of their annual base salary.
According to numbers from an Alaska Department of Administration spokesman that were provided by Egan’s office, the change would affect 402 employees in Juneau.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, spoke favorably about the geographic pay differentials.
“I like the geographic pay differentials,” said Wielechowski. “I think, of course, the pay increases are very small, but nonetheless, it matters to the people that work in the state.”
Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, expressed concern about the differentials for some rural communities. A number of rural communities, including Craig, Klawock and Yakutat, have no geographic pay differential, while several others have pay differentials as high as 50 percent or 60 percent.
“I would just like to, going forward for the administration, to take a harder look at the geographic pay differentials,” Bishop said.
In addition to the geographic pay differentials, the bill also slightly reduces the rate at which personal leave accrues for state employees beginning work after the start of next fiscal year. Fiscal year 2014 begins July 1.
One provision giving the governor authority to raise the pay for a partially exempt employee drew criticism from Wielechowski, who supported the bill.
“It’s not done in other areas,” said Wielechowski. “Why are we giving that power to the governor?”
S.B. 95 passed 18-1, with Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, voting against. Gardner called S.B. 95 “a good bill” but said she is not satisfied with the classification system for state employees.
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