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COLAs, Diet Colas, or UNColas

That seems to be the issue for the Superintendent and County Manager this year in their respective budget proposals for FY 2008. The Superintendent proposed a 2% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) while the County Manager has no COLA in his budget. Yet, as Scott McCaffrey points out in his online article today in the Arlington Sun-Gazette, most of the county’s 3,700 employees “will still see slightly larger paychecks in the coming year.”

Actually, employees hired within the past several years will actually see their paychecks go up faster than inflation because of the county’s pay structure. Virtually all employees move up one step each year, according to the county’s personnel director with the first few of the 18 steps increasing by 4.1%, the middle steps by 3.2%, and the last steps by 2.3%. The Sun-Gazette’s McCaffrey notes that “(c)urrectly, employees max out when they reach Step 18” although the County Manager proposes adding a 19th step.

Arlington’s monopoly school system utilizes a similar step structure, but the Superintendent’s proposed budget would give employees a 2% COLA. The Sun-Gazette notes, though, that the head of the teachers union “said the 2-percent increased is not enough, and asked for a higher hike.”

During the County Board’s budget work session yesterday morning, the County Manager noted the added cost of employee healthcare and retirement benefit is equivalent to a COLA increase of 3.3%. So in effect, county employees are getting an additional pay raise of 3.3%, but they just won’t see it in their paychecks, but rather will see it in their healthcare and retirement benefits.

Instead of COLA's and step increases, shouldn't the pay of government employees have some connection to the realities to the pay of private sector employees in the region? Wouldn't this make the county and school budgets more sustainable? Afterall, without the dynamics of the private sector, what would government pay look like?

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