Little Rock (KATV) - Both gubernatorial candidates spoke to state employees at a convention in the Embassy Hotel Saturday morning. Each candidate answered questions separately from KATV's Janelle Lilly for about 20 minutes then answered the public's questions for another 10. "In light of rising health benefit costs and the lack of a cost-of-living adjustment this year, now more than ever, state employees must be equipped with the necessary tools to communicate their needs to legislators and the new governor," said Danny James, ASEA Executive Director. Republican Asa Hutchinson spoke first. He said he would have funded the 1% cost of living adjustment voted on by the state legislature. He sympathized with the spouses who lost their state health benefits but promised he would work with the task force which is finding solutions to sure up state run health plans for the future. Hutchinson also elaborated on the hiring freeze he would implement if elected. "The key thing is, it doesn't mean anyone is being fired, it just means we're going to hold off on until I get a handle on what the needs are," said Hutchinson. "A hiring freeze may make for good politics to get votes, but it does not make for an effective state government," said Democrat Mike Ross. Ross said to a room of state employees that he estimates the next governor will be able to work with a state revenue net growth of about $40 million. If elected he'd use a portion of that to fund the cost of living adjustment for state employees. Ross said a graduated pay scale would help with employee retention. As for the state employees, they had their questions answered by their future boss, whoever that may be. "I think both candidates had some good suggestions, I think they told us they're committed to helping state employees with cost of living increase and merit pay," said President of the ASEA Raymond Heaggans.
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