By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Thousands of state employees who have gone without a raise the past year saw some movement on the stalemate when the Senate voted 14-10 along party lines to support a raise during their last session of 2020.
Republicans said now is not a time during a pandemic in which thousands of residents are unemployed to add $19 million in costs to the state.
That is $8 million more than Gov. Chris Sununu offered, noted Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem. He called it a political move.
Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, called the vote “a farce,” and he pointed to the thousands of people who are now unemployed because of the virus.
“We are $170 million in the hole for this year,” Giuda said because of COVID-19.
Democrats said state employees have been there for every resident for every reason and deserve this pay increase. On the cost side, it’s an additional $19 million, Morse said.
Which program would senators like to cut or tax to pay for it, Morse asked.
Sen. David Watters, D-Durham, said this is about compensating state employees who have been there for the state during the pandemic and every day.
The factfinder’s report suggests $8 million more than Sununu offered. The existing state budget had reserved $6 million for raises but no agreement has been reached.
The report of the legislative Joint Committee on Employee Relations, which now goes to the House tomorrow for a vote, adopts a factfinder’s report which would increase wages 2.86 percent in fiscal 2020, 1.6 percent in fiscal 2021.
This raise would extend to members of the State Employees Association, New Hampshire Troopers Association, New Hampshire Troopers Association Command Staff, Fish and Game Conservation Officers Local 40, Probation and Parole Officers I and II, Local 265 and Probation and Parole Officers III, Local 270.
Sununu has said as recently as two weeks ago that the unions have not been well-served by their “union bosses” in the process and that now, with COVID-19 impacting tax collection and massive unemployment in the private sector, the state is not in any position whatsoever to fund pay raises.
Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, said with respect to cost, it would not be $19 million. The cost is $15.5 million, he said.
Sen. Starr, R-Franconia, said: “We have thrown almost everybody out of work the last three months. This doesn’t seem right to me, this particular year with things as bad as they are.”
The Senate met once again in the 400-seat House Chambers to be able to safely keep a social distance.
Senate President Donna Soucy offered a moment to remember 367 people who have died due to COVID-19 and noted it was 47 more than when it met last two weeks ago.
The 24 senators were given lots of support to help them do their jobs while social distancing. They had a microphone, most importantly to express their views, a bag of snacks which included cookies, peanuts and chocolate bars, water, a bottle of sanitizer, tissues, a bag for their trash, and mileage slips to fill out.
And if senators wanted a coffee, all they had to do was ask a staffer and it would be brought to them. The session was not accessible to anyone but the 24 senators, its staff, and journalists in the balcony.
Outside, senators were greeted by protesters wearing masks, among them, members of the State Employees Association and individuals who supported measures to allow for absentee ballots without requiring an excuse and for independent redistricting. But protesters could not go into the building as it remains locked to the public.
On Tuesday, the House will meet at the cavernous Whittemore Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham to take up concurrence of the bills sent to the Senate. Those the House can concur with will go to the governor on Wednesday.