Oklahoma Higher Regents’ pay hike assailed

A pay raise for employees of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education drew criticism from left and right this week. 

Sterling Zearley, executive director for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA) said the 5 percent increase, disclosed Monday  “demonstrates how uneven the current (state government employee) system is.”

Wednesday, Prof. Andrew Spiropoulos, a widely published conservative analyst, decried the pay hike for “some of the most highly compensated people in state government.” 

John Massey, who chairs the Regents’ strategic planning and personnel committee, said the boost was financed without “additional state appropriations” to finance what was deemed “cost-of-living adjustments.” Amanda Paliotta, vice chancellor of finance said 268 employees will get the pay hikes, at a cost of just over $1 million. 

In a statement to Oklahoma Watchdog, Zearley reflected, “Employees of large agencies get passed over for raises because of the overall expense of granting raises while employees of smaller agencies might get raises because the total cost is not as great. The regents raise is just another example of where some groups of state employees are treated differently than others.”

In an essay for The Journal Record newspaper, Spiropoulos – law professor at Oklahoma City University, a Methodist-affiliated private institution – wrote, “The regents decided to give these people, even those with six-figure salaries, more money at a time when almost all state government employees haven’t had a raise in years and private universities have cut jobs and employees’ pay.”

Despite a clamor for public employee pay hikes during the spring 2013 legislative session, Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders decided to wait for results of a compensation task force she has formed, putting off most pay hikes until next year. However, the Regents’ independent governance structure allows them to grant pay hikes without advance consent from the governor or the Legislature. 

Spiropoulos assailed the process that allowed the Higher Ed pay hikes, writing, “You would think that our supposedly conservative reform-minded political leaders would be chomping at the bit to overhaul this dysfunctional system. Millions of people across the nation have concluded that higher education, which has floated for years on a bubble of student loan debt, must learn to deliver more quality for less money.

“Given human nature, there’s no way higher education will reform itself. However, word has apparently not reached our state’s leaders that they need to start breaking the china. One suspects they hope to share the pork someday.”

Zearley’s critique is rooted, in contrast, in his belief there should be “consistency on how all state employees’ pay is determined regardless of which agency they work for.” 

His statement to Oklahoma Watchdog concluded, “After May’s tornadoes and the tremendous response by state troopers, legislators discussed raising trooper pay. The raise did not happen because leadership and the governor’s office wanted to wait until after the study. Three months later, the regents give pay raises to their staff. This just adds to the frustration that troopers, correctional officers, social workers and other workers feel.”

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.