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Budget worries employees’ union

New challenges cited as reason to hold the line

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The union representing 20,000 state employees has lashed out at Gov. Mike Leavitt's proposed budget for next year, saying state employees deserve more than "political rhetoric about the excellent work they do."

Frederick Van Der Vuer, executive director of the Utah Public Employees Association, criticized Leavitt for not doing enough over the past 10 years to adequately compensate state workers when the economy was good. And now that the economy has turned sour, the governor is asking state employees to tighten their belts.

"We beseech both the governor and the Legislature to not continuously leave the most valuable asset the state has, the state employee, out in the cold and holding the bag," said Van Der Vuer.

"When budgets are tight and revenues are down, our elected officials need to do all they can to find ways to prioritize and reward the excellent work of the public employee," he said, especially considering the Olympics will place a heavy demand on services provided by state employees.

Leavitt's proposed budget calls for no pay increase next year for public employees, but it does call for the state to pay 1.35 percent in additional health insurance costs.

Van Der Vuer urged the Legislature, which is seeking to cut even more than Leavitt from state budgets this year and next, to pass "legislation and funding compensation that will not allow further erosion of public employee benefits and purchasing power."

He did not say what percentage increase would accomplish that end.

Natalie Gochnour, Leavitt's spokeswoman, said the governor has high praise for the efficiency of the state's workforce, but "we have to live within our budget."