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Unofficial Opinion 93-13

Unofficial Opinion 93-13

November 18, 1993
To: 

Legislative Budget Analyst

Re: 

The appropriation which authorizes pay raises for employees and state officers for Fiscal Year 1993-1994 but excludes members of the General Assembly is consistent with general law.

You and the Legislative Fiscal Officer have asked me to confirm that members of the General Assembly do not receive the raise awarded state employees this fiscal year and that the Lieutenant Governor does receive the raise.  Because the question is similar to one answered differently by unofficial opinion last year, I am answering by unofficial opinion this year to explain the difference.

The General Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1994 provides for certain state pay raises as follows:

The General Assembly has distributed to and included in the agency appropriations . . . State funds . . .: 1.) To provide a general performance based increase of 2.5% for employees . . . to be awarded on . . . anniversary date.  Increases are contingent on . . . rating satisfactory. . . .  4.) To provide an increase of 2.5% for each State official (excluding the members of [*2]  the General Assembly) whose salary is set by . . . Code Section 45-7-4. . . .

Ga. Laws 1993, pp. 1819, 1908.  (parentheses in the original) For this language to be effective, it must conform to the general law provisions of the Code regarding the salaries of members of the General Assembly and of other state officers.  See, e.g., Op. Att'y Gen. U92-19 (language excluding legislators from COLA appropriation for employees could not contradict general law requiring COLA for legislators when employees get COLA).  The Code provides that members of the General Assembly receive a cost-of-living adjustment ("COLA") of one-half the employee increase "when employees of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches . . . receive a cost-of-living increase of a certain percentage." O.C.G.A. § 45-7-4(a)(22) (proviso).  Because the appropriation for raises for employees in Fiscal Year 1993-1994, quoted above, is not across-the-board but is contingent upon satisfactory performance, employees are not receiving a COLA.  Consequently, members of the General Assembly may not get a COLA, and their exclusion in the appropriation for raises for officers conforms to general law. Cf. Op. Att'y [*3]  Gen. U92-19.

The corresponding provision in the Code for state officers is different:

As a cost-of-living adjustment, the annual salary of each state official (whose salary is set by this and certain other Code sections, except legislators) may be increased . . . in the general appropriations Act by a percentage not to exceed the average percentage of the general increase in salary . . . granted to employees . . . in the classified service.

O.C.G.A. 45-7-4(b) ("subsection (b)").  That is, state officers get a COLA when classified employees get a "general" increase.

Unless a particular subject matter or context requires otherwise, words are given their ordinary meaning in the interpretation of statutes.  O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(b).  A "general" increase may be one affecting the majority of those involved.  American Heritage Dictionary 552 (2d Amer. College ed.).  "General" may also mean "universal".  Id. However, subsection (b) requires a calculation based on an "average".  That means that employee raises which satisfy subsection (b) may be "general" in the "majority" sense but do not have to be general in the "universal" or "across-the-board" sense.

Section 82 of the [*4]  appropriations act cannot be read to require a "universal raise" because the word "raise" is qualified not only by "general" but also by "performance based." Section 82 does require that the increase be "general", expressly so and in the sense that it is consistent with ordinary understanding to expect that a raise for everyone whose performance is "satisfactory" will apply to a majority of employees.

Therefore, it is my unofficial opinion that the appropriation for raises for state officers is effective and further, as an officer whose salary is set by O.C.G.A. § 45-7-4 (a) (2), the Lieutenant Governor is entitled to this year's COLA pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 45-7-4(b).

Issued this 18th day of November, 1993.

Prepared by:

JOHN B. BALLARD, JR.

Senior Assistant Attorney General