Smelser Bill To Curb State Job Reclassifications Is Assailed

Measurewould Cut Out Pay Increases That Accompany Promotions

March 08, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — State employees, the Maryland personnel secretary and labor union representatives on Friday blasted a Carroll senator's proposal to save money by prohibiting state job reclassifications for fiscal 1993.

Charles Bush II, a Hagerstown jail correctional officer, told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee he could lose his new home if Sen. Charles H. Smelser's bill is passed. He is counting on the $160 per month increase he expects with his reclassification next year to help pay his mortgage.

"This is shoddy workmanship, period," he told the senator. "I understand what you're trying to do, but I wish you'd tear it up and throw it away."

Employees are reclassified when they are promoted to higher positions or assume additional responsibilities. The job titlechange carries with it a higher salary.

"I'm very angry," said Ruth A. Ogle, a Division of Corrections case manager in Hagerstown. "The illusion is that state employees have caused this deficit mess and somehow they have to pay for it. This legislation is a cheap shot at state employees."

Smelser, a conservative Democrat, told the committee his bill is aimed at correcting "abuse" of the state's job reclassification system and is intended to target employees receiving higher salaries.

"At the same time private companies are laying off employees and reducing salaries, a considerable number of state employees in high-paid jobs have been reclassified," he said. "That's wrong."

About 18,500 of the state's 60,000 jobs have been reclassified in the last 14 months -- including about 5,500 since July 1, the startof fiscal 1992.

Smelser says that many reclassifications are justified because they were approved by the Department of Personnel or resulted from the state's takeover of the Baltimore City Jail. He objects to ones approved internally within individual agencies -- more than 3,000 since July 1 -- after the legislature adopted a budget.

"I'm afraid there's back scratching (between legislators and agency heads)," he said. "That is what I'm trying to prevent."

The Department of Fiscal Services estimated the bill would save $47.4 million in fiscal 1993.

The senator had several supporters, including Westminster resident Romeo Valianti, a retired assistant state comptroller. Valianti agreed that the system unfairly benefits employees with higher salaries.

Smelser contends state employees can wait a year to receive reclassifications and corresponding pay increases while the state grapples with money problems.

Opponents rejected that opinion.

"I oppose it not for bureaucratic reasons or out of greed, but because it flies in the face of responsible personnel administration," said Hilda Ford, Department of Personnel secretary.

She explained that the system is designed to keep salary levels suppressed, to allowagencies to fill positions at the lowest salaries possible and to hire trainees before eventually reclassifying them. A high turnover rate has forced employees into positions with more responsibilities.

She said that state employees, who have been denied pay raises for two years and have been forced to pay more for health insurance, "are being clobbered unmercifully." She said it's "unconscionable" to deny reclassifications in a system that keeps salaries suppressed.

Smelser said he'd try to amend the bill to distinguish between lower-level employees and higher-paid supervisors and administrators.

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