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Eye on Boise: Idaho struggles to fill state jobs, with 2,500 openings

Idaho’s overall state employee pay continues to lag behind market levels.
Idaho Capitol

BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.

While the number of state workers is zipping past the governor’s level in pay has continued to grow, as I reported last week, Idaho’s overall state employee pay continues to lag behind market levels. 

The Fiscal Year 2023 Change in Employee Compensation and Benefits Report shows that despite some gains, state employee salaries overall remain 9% below market rates and total compensation is 12% below the private sector, though it’s improved to 7% below market for public-sector pay.

Idaho’s been struggling to fill openings and retain state employees, state Human Resources Director Lori Wolff wrote in the report. “In state government alone, we have over 2,500 unfilled jobs and are currently battling a 12% vacancy rate across regular positions,” she wrote. “There are times when not a single application is received for a job posting.”

A joint legislative committee on state employee compensation was scheduled to meet last week to review the report, which recommends a 5% boost to state employee pay next year, including “at least” 3% for merit increases and a 2% increase in the state’s salary structure. But the meeting was canceled at the last minute due to scheduling conflicts and lack of a quorum; it’s now been reset for Wednesday afternoon.

Idaho doesn’t give cost-of-living pay increases to state workers; instead, it generally funds just merit-based pay boosts, which vary at the discretion of managers. Just over 700 state employees earn $15 an hour or less, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee was told at an October meeting.

With about 25,000 employees, Idaho’s state government is the state’s largest employer. Turnover this year has risen to 19%, according to October presentations to JFAC.

This past year, the governor recommended and the Legislature approved 2% merit raises for state employees; the figure was an increase in the salary funding to agencies, meaning individual workers could see higher, lower, or no raises based on their performance. In the previous fiscal year, FY 2021, a 2% appropriation also was approved, but it was held and not given to most state employees due to budget holdbacks during the coronavirus pandemic. Then, in many cases, it was added to FY 2022’s 2% allocation for a total of 4% in merit increases in ’22, and none the year before.

Gov. Brad Little will include his recommendation for state employee pay in the coming year in his State of the State and budget message to lawmakers on Monday, opening this year’s legislative session.


The governor was pretty clear when he was asked Friday about possible new initiative restrictions, after a restrictive voter initiative bill he signed into law last year was overturned as unconstitutional by the Idaho Supreme Court. “I signed that bill saying this piece of legislation is not without risk,” Little told reporters at the Idaho Press Club Legislative Preview on Friday. “And I think what the court said is they drew a pretty hard line. … The court was pretty solid in what they said they thought that the Legislature could do in the future.”

The bill, SB 1110, which took effect immediately upon signing because lawmakers included an emergency clause, would have required signatures from 6% of registered voters in all 35 of Idaho’s legislative districts to qualify any voter initiative for the ballot — a requirement the court found so onerous that it “constituted a grave infringement on the people’s constitutional rights.”

The Idaho Constitution has guaranteed citizens the right to initiative and referendum at the ballot box since 1912.

“I take an oath to uphold the constitution of the state of Idaho and the federal Constitution,” Little said.


Little has raised more than $1 million in the past year for his re-election campaign but hasn’t yet actually announced he’ll seek a second term. Asked about that by reporters on Friday, Little made no announcement, but said, “I wouldn’t bet against it.”

This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press. Read more at IdahoPress.com

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