Commissioner takes pitch on the road

Posted: Friday, March 24, 2000

Bob Poe knows it's going to be a tough sell asking legislators to spend about $14 million on labor contracts.

So the state Department of Administration commissioner is taking his sales pitch to their constituents - business groups around the state. He talked Thursday to the Alaska Business Roundtable, a forum in Juneau sponsored by the state Chamber of Commerce.

Next he takes his show on the road, with speeches planned before chambers of commerce and Rotary clubs in Homer, Wasilla, Palmer, Kenai, Fairbanks and Anchorage.

``Legislators have a tough job,'' Poe said. ``Their constituents say cut the budget. I think there are a lot of legislators that do realize that a fair and reasonable contract is probably something they'd like to support, but we have to help them with their constituents.''

At Thursday's presentation Poe repeated arguments he's made to the news media.

Federal, municipal and private sector workers' pay has been rising faster than state workers' pay over the past few years.

Although state workers generally start out making more than non-state workers, over time their pay doesn't stay as competitive.

State workers' base pay scales increased at only half the inflation rate for three years and didn't increase at all last year, although some workers received merit raises.

The state needs to pay more to hire and keep quality workers in the current national job market.

``We're having a difficult time attracting good employees,'' Poe said. ``And we're having a tough time retaining good employees.''

Two departments are finding they're unable to recruit an accountant with a college degree, and the Department of Transportation has almost 50 engineer jobs it hasn't been able to fill.

Even the lowest level state jobs require workers with computer skills, he said.

The total state payroll is $795 million a year, which has a $1.4 billion impact on Alaska's economy, he said. ``State employees live in Alaska. They spend their money in Alaska.''

Pamela LaBolle of the Alaska Chamber of Commerce said she was skeptical when Poe said he was going to present some compelling business arguments why employee contracts should be funded.

But afterward, she said the presentation was enlightening. ``He was right: There are a lot of misconceptions and things people don't know,'' she said.

She hadn't realized the difference between public and private sector compensation isn't as ``extreme'' as it once was. ``That has closed up a great deal.''

Still, she's not sure she'd vote to pay for the contracts if she were a legislator. ``I think it's a good basis for discussion,'' she said of Poe's presentation.

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