Payday falls on Thursday for state employees — and it’s a big one.
It’s also the first day of the state’s new fiscal year, and the General Assembly and Gov. Ralph Northam included money in the new budget for 5% raises to state employees. That includes faculty and staff at public colleges, universities and community colleges — as well as state-supported local employees, such as sheriff’s deputies.
And that’s not all.
The budget includes money for the state’s share of a 5% raise for teachers — subject to local school divisions paying their share — as well as raises for general registrars and an extra 3% for sworn officers of the Virginia State Police, who also will get extra pay for each year of service.
Finally, on Dec. 1, correctional and juvenile justice officers will receive a $1,000 one-time bonus on top of the pay increase that takes effect this week.
For public employees, raises represent a remarkable turnaround more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic cost them a combination of bonuses and salary increases in a budget adopted by the legislature on March 12, 2020, the same day Northam declared a public health emergency because of the pandemic. The state froze more than $2 billion in newly adopted spending.
“To have a 5% raise for all state employees in a non-budget year in the face of a pandemic recession, it is exceptionally good news for us,” said Dylan Bishop, a lobbyist for the Virginia Governmental Employees Association.
The state employee raises took effect on June 10, the first day of the pay period, but the money will show up in checks on Thursday.
For teachers to get the full 5% raise approved by the state, their local school divisions will have to match it over the two-year period that began a year ago. Locally, Henrico County went beyond the state this year with a 7% raise, followed by 5.5% in Chesterfield County, 4.5% in Hanover County and 3% in Richmond.
The state employed 106,715 workers full time last year and 18,634 part time, including adjunct college faculty, or about 7,900 fewer than the previous year. Virginia officials and lawmakers continue to look for ways to recruit and retain employees for state jobs in the face of retirement, private sector competition, and a generational change in worker attitudes.
“We’ve got an aging workforce,” said Bishop at the state employee association. “So we’ve got to do something to make state employment more appealing to millennials [born between 1981 and 1996].”
“Ultimately, it comes down to compensation and flexible work” rules, he said.
Nearly four years ago, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission issued a report that confirmed the trends. It recommended that the state identify and fund jobs that most needed better pay to compete for talent, and also suggested that the governor build employee compensation into the front of the budget process instead of the end.
One area that officials say needs urgent attention is staffing at overcrowded state mental hospitals. Virginia’s only mental hospital for children — the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents in Staunton — is operating at half of its 48-bed capacity because it does not have enough staff to safely manage more patients. More than one-third of its direct care jobs — aides and nurses — are vacant.
Eight other behavioral health facilities also are short on staff. The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services said this month that its facilities have 1,289 job vacancies it cannot fill.
“This pressure, combined with the high census, means the safety of staff and patients is a significant and serious concern,” spokeswoman Lauren Cunningham said Tuesday.
The state gave targeted raises for behavioral health staff in 2018 and 2019, but the facilities have not been able to keep pace with other employers that can pay more.
“This environment creates a hyper competitive market for scarce resources,” Cunningham said. “We are continuing intensive recruitment efforts, but the salary gaps are impossible to ignore.”
State police also face a staffing crisis, despite the total 8% raise troopers will see in their checks on Thursday and ongoing efforts to adjust salaries for veterans whose pay sometimes lags that of officers they supervise. The department has 322 vacancies for sworn officers, with 11 retirements pending and 273 officers eligible to retire.
“We got it addressed, but we never got it resolved,” said former state police Superintendent Wayne Huggins, executive director of the Virginia State Police Association, which is seeking $18.6 million to fund a pay plan that would resolve salary inequities.
Huggins is looking first for help from the $4.3 billion in federal aid that Virginia received under the American Rescue Plan Act. The General Assembly will convene in special session on Aug. 2 to decide how to spend it over the next 3½ years.
State agencies submitted their requests to the General Assembly money committees at the end of last week for funding under the federal law.
Northam also has another chance to address compensation for public employees in the final two-year budget he will submit in December, less than a month before his term ends. The governor is likely to have money to work with, thanks to a revenue surplus that could near $2 billion for the fiscal year that ends as Wednesday turns to Thursday.
“Gov. Northam values the tremendous work of Virginia state employees, particularly during this unprecedented time,” spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said Tuesday. “That’s why he was proud to support a 5% raise for state employees that will go into effect July 1st.”
“We are just beginning the upcoming budget process,” Yarmosky added, “ but this is certainly one of many priorities we are considering."