Democratic gubernatorial candidate Henry E. Howell promised today to increase Virginia government salaries, making them comparable to those paid by private industry. A high ranking state personnel officer said such increases could add $200 million to the next two-year budget.
State budget officials have forecast that all of an expected $650 million revenue gross from existing taxes will be required during the next two years to keep pace with normal spending increases. Thus, a $200 million addition for pay raises would have to come either from new taxes or cuts in state services.
Howell said in answer to questions from reporters after announcing his salary goals that he is standing by his promise not to propose a general tax increase. He said he will propose amendments in the statebudget next January that will provide for the pay raises through other spending cuts and by "closing tax loopholes for the super-rich."
Howell's pay raise proposal was made in answer to a question by a state employee at a meeting of the Virginia Rehabilation Association. It contrasted sharply with the more modest pay promises of Republican nominee John N. Dalton, who was asked the same question at the meeting about an hour later.
Dalton pledged to include a state worker increase of at least 4.8 per cent in the budgets he proposes and said he will try to raise that figure to the actual increase in the cost of living if possible.
State workers this year received a 4.8 per cent raise. When the Gneral Assembly approved it in March, its $34 million cost was seen as such a threat to the state's precariously balanced budget that it gave Gov. Mills E. Goodwin authority to withhold the money if tax revenues were insufficient.
In contrast with Dalton's proposal, Howell promised to abide by what he said is an often-ignored state law requiring the government to pay its workers salaries comparable to those earned in private industry for the same work.
Howell did not put a price tag on his proposal but said in answer to a reporter's question about the cost, "it doesn't matter, (the law) has to be complied with. There is a status that requires it."
He told the state workers, "...we have blinked at statutes before in Virginia. I promise you this is one I won't blink at.
Jerry Wilkins, chief of classification for the state personnel division, said in a telephone interview that the gap between state and private pay, estimated at almost 10 per cent last year, probably has widened.
He said it could take an average increase of almost three full pay steps for all employees to reach comparability, an increase that would cost about $100 million a year on the basis of last year's budget figures. Wilkinson cautioned, however, that the exact of cost of comparability will not be available until the personnel division completes its annual survey of private and public pay.
Howell's pay promise is the first clearly costly proposal to this, his third compaign for the governorship. Often characterized by his opponents as big spenderr, owell successfully stressed his fiscal conservatism in winning the Democratic primary this year and continues to warn against expectations of expanded state services in his administration.
"We'll have to cut the cost to fit," he has siad repeatedly to make the point that he intends to work within existing revenues.
He has also stressed, however, that he has not ruled out selective tax increases. He has declined to identity the levels he might raise, but in a recent interview with reporters and editors of the Norfolk and Roanoke newspapers he said he believes the present tax ceiling on taxable incomes over $12,000 should br raised. That ceiling now is 5 3/4 per cent.
Many of those listening to Howell and Dalton today were vocational rehabilitation counselors who said their starting sarlies with the state are about $11,500. Starting salaries for counselors working for private employers, they sail, are about $16,500.
Howell was applauded when he said, "we intend to make your salaries comparable with those of the vocational rehabilitiation employees of the Chesapeake Potomac Telephone Co.
Dalton, however, also was applaused for promising only to make sure that state workers receive at least a 4.8 per cent each year.