On a party-line vote the state House on Wednesday approved sweeping changes to the personnel system designed to give the governor and her department heads more power to discipline and fire state workers.
The 39-19 vote came over objections from Democrats who said it would result in a patronage system where workers get jobs and get ahead by being politically connected. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, talked about his home town of Chicago.
“I know for a fact, growing up, if you wanted to get a job with the city of Chicago you had to have worked on a campaign, you had to have donated to a campaign or know somebody that was in power in that campaign,” he said. And Gallego said anyone who “spoke out too much ... could find yourself not being promoted.”
But Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, who carried HB 2571 for the governor, said such worries are unwarranted. He said several other states have scrapped their merit protection rules without indications of cronyism.
Anyway, he said, this just puts state employment in line with what already exists in most private companies.
Revamping the state’s personnel practices has been a top priority of the governor.
She said the current system not only makes it too cumbersome to get rid of bad workers but also makes it difficult to reward good ones. This system, she has argued, will allow supervisors to reward the best employees without having to worry about running afoul of a system of pay grades which requires all workers doing the same job to be similarly compensated.
State officials say about three-fourths of Arizona’s approximately 36,000 workers now have merit system protections. These generally allow them to appeal any discipline or firing.
Under the terms of the legislation, certain categories of workers would automatically lose their merit protections. That includes supervisors, attorneys and information technology workers.
Most other existing employees could keep their protected status. But that would disappear if they were promoted or accepted a different job assignment.
And others could opt out of the merit system entirely.
In proposing the change, Brewer said she would provide a 5 percent pay hike for those workers. But the budget proposal crafted by the GOP leadership does not include such funds.