$6 million salary bonanza

An arbitrator ruled earlier this month that 415 caseworkers in the Department of Health and Human Services are owed back pay dating to 1998 that could add up to $6 million.

The arbitrator ruled the case workers were misclassified based on the skills they need to do their jobs and should have been moved up a pay grade on the state’s salary schedule.

DHHS Commissioner Jack Nicholas said there is no appeal of the decision because the state had agreed to send it to arbitration when the state and the Maine State Employees Association – the state workers’ union – couldn’t agree. He said the department has yet to determine how much money will be involved in the payback, but the union is saying it will be $6 million.

In a message to its members posted on the union Web site, union leaders say “because of management’s foot dragging, back pay owed has risen to over $6 million. Interest will continue to accrue until the caseworkers are paid.” Discussion between the state and the union over the caseworkers’ pay started in 2000.

The Legislature will need to approve money for the back pay when it comes back into session early next year.

Revenue stash

The state appears to be $50 million in the black, based on preliminary revenue numbers for September, but $29 million of that is designated to pay Business Equipment Tax Reimbursements (BETR) and tax rebates under the Circuit Breaker program.

State officials say some major businesses have yet to apply for their BETR checks and fewer lower-income homeowners than expected are applying for Circuit Breaker rebates. The money not spent shows up as revenue since BETR and Circuit Breaker payments are now counted as lost income by the state rather than on the expense line.

Still the state is ahead of its revenue budget, and that’s despite sluggish sales numbers. Sales tax revenue is down close to $6 million from budget for the first three months of the fiscal year. The winners include both personal and corporate income tax and the estate tax, and even the cigarette tax is ahead of budget. The $1-a-pack increase on smokes, however, didn’t go into effect until mid-September.

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