The Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Miss., on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

About 19,000 of the 24,000 Mississippi state employees who fall under the state Personnel Board guidelines will be eligible for a pay raise of up to 3% in January.

About $7 million for the pay raise was appropriated earlier this year during the 2021 legislative session. Agency heads were given discretion on whether to actually award the raises, though legislative leaders made it clear at the time that the money was appropriated to provide state employee salary increases. The pay raise will be the first enacted under the Personnel Board’s new salary classification system called “Project SEC2.”

“What we are trying to do is give agencies more flexibility to manage the dollars they receive (in legislative appropriations) for state employees,” Kelly Hardwick, executive director of the state Personnel Board, said Monday during a news conference with journalists.

Project SEC2 replaces the state’s old compensation classification system that was put in place in the 1980s. Hardwick said it was a good system when enacted, but through the years has become too burdensome to be effective.

The new system will provide “more accountability and… be more functional and transparent for the Legislature, agencies and state employees,” Hardwick said.

In developing the system, Hardwick said the Personnel Board received input from most of the state employees who fall Personnel Board guidelines.

“We asked them what they did,” he said. Then taking that information and working with experts, the Personnel Board classified the state employees and developed “a market” minimum and maximum salary range for each classification. The market value is determined by looking at similar job classifications outside of state government.

Under the old system, there were 114 classifications in law enforcement. Under the new system, there are 10 classifications.

The research found that information technology workers, nurses and accountants are in the state employee classifications that are generally the most underpaid.

Hardwick said employees who are below the minimum market values (19,293 of the 24,816 employees) will be eligible for a pay raise of up to 3%, based on the legislative appropriation. Those who are not eligible already are paid at least at minimum market value.

READ MORE: Personnel Board determining how to award pay raises after 2021 session

The legislation enacting the pay raise did not mandate that the agencies provide the 3% raise, but the general belief is that because that was legislative intent, most agency directors will award the raise.

Employees who fall under Personnel Board guidelines are generally those who are non-political appointees, meaning their jobs are not tied to election outcomes. Teachers and university and community college faculty also are not under the Personnel Board.

The average salary of state employees in Mississippi is $41,260 compared to $52,351 in the four contiguous states.

Getting all state employees up to the market minimum under Project SEC2 would take $53 million — and about $23 million would come from the general fund. The rest of the funds would come from agencies funded by specific fees or taxes.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.