FRANKFORT — About 60 state workers gathered in front of the Capitol early Saturday morning to try to "wake up the governor and legislators" about their financial plights.
Miffed about rising health insurance costs and no pay raises since a 1 percent increase in 2009, they listened to speakers offering advice.
Two Democratic state lawmakers from Frankfort — Sen. Julian Carroll and Rep. Derrick Graham — urged state employees to let their legislators know they are unhappy and want help in Kentucky's 2014 General Assembly that begins in January.
"Tell your fellow co-workers to contact their legislators," said Carroll, who noted that state workers got a 20 percent pay raise during his five years as governor in the 1970s.
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Carroll told the crowd state government needs them. He asked them to stick with their jobs and not retire.
"Don't retire early. Retirement will kill you," said Carroll, 82.
Graham said he knows state workers "are sick and tired of being sick and tired," but more attention to their situations will help their cause.
State workers are "the faceless workers of Kentucky," said David Smith, president of the Kentucky Association of State Employees with more than 1,000 members. "State workers are not thriving. We're barely surviving. We are tired of balancing the state budget on the backs of its workers."
With tiny pay raises, if any, in the last five years, the average salary for a state worker in Kentucky's executive branch is $40,326, according to the state Personnel Cabinet.
The state spends an average of $58,055 a year on each employee, counting pay, retirement, health and life insurance, the federal tax for unemployment insurance and Medicare. The median state worker salary is $35,479.
There are 33,321 employees in Kentucky's executive branch. Of that number, 31,961 are full-time. The numbers exclude far smaller numbers of employees in the legislative and judicial branches.
The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis ranks Kentucky 41st among the 50 states in state worker pay.
Gov. Steve Beshear is sympathetic to state workers' money concerns, but the state budget is tight, said Beshear press secretary Kerri Richardson.
Since Beshear took office in December 2007, he has been forced to balance the state budget 13 times, cutting $1.6 billion dollars, said Richardson, noting that some agencies have seen total reductions of nearly 40 percent.
"The governor recognizes the continued hard work and sacrifice of all state employees, especially as they have helped the state to weather these cuts," she said.
However, Richardson warned that the upcoming two-year budget "appears to continue the same challenges we have faced over the past several years."
She added a little hope: "But as the administration begins to build budget recommendations, the governor will seek any opportunities to address the needs of Kentucky's state workers."
For the current fiscal year, the cost of salaries, federal taxes and retirement contributions is about $1.7 billion for the state's full-time employees, said the Personnel Cabinet. The state's General Fund, which pays for most state programs, is about $9.3 billion.
Sally Barclay, a worker in the state environmental protection agency, said state workers are "tired of getting the short shrift in the state budgets."
"Inflation is overtaking us," said state worker Connie Coy, also in the environmental agency. "We're going backwards financially."
The average increase for heath insurance premiums for state workers is less than 2 percent, according to the Personnel Cabinet.
"Some will pay more, and some will pay less than 2 percent," said cabinet spokeswoman Crystal Staley. "And, some paying for dependents will actually see a substantial reduction from the premiums they are paying this year."
But Barclay and Clay said health care costs have been climbing every year without substantial pay raises for state workers.
KASE leader Smith, a state worker, disputed the cabinet's health cost figures, saying he and his wife will be paying $88 more a month for their health insurance policy. "That's way more than 2 percent," he said.
The state workers at Saturday's rally agreed that they need to speak out more about their financial concerns.
Smith said another rally will be held in January when lawmakers return to town.