Pay for North Dakota state government workers needs to keep up with private sector pay. Legislation in the works would largely make sure that happens. If it falls short, it’s in making sure state employee retirement is secure.

The Legislature’s pay package basically splits the difference between House and Senate plans.

House Republicans began by suggesting 3 percent increases in both years of the next biennium. The Senate penciled in 4 percent in each of the next two years. There were similar differences in terms of retirement and merit pay.

The compromise looks like this: Four percent the first year and

3 percent the second for basic wages; 1 percent from employees for retirement in the first year of the biennium and 1 percent from the state in the second; 3-5 percent in the first year and 2-4 percent in the second year for merit pay.

If passed, there will also be a

2.4 percent increase from the state for health insurance premiums.

It’s a reasonable compensation package. It should keep the state generally competitive with the private sector, with the exception of those geographic and skill areas where the oil boom has stretched living expenses and pay well beyond statewide averages.

Overestimating the importance of state government and its workers to the Bismarck-Mandan area would be difficult to do. State employees make up a large segment of the area’s workforce. These men and women who work at the Capitol and other state offices tend to be well-educated, family-oriented individuals. They may get good-humored grief for being bureaucrats, but they are typically skilled and competent.

The state of North Dakota is in position to reasonably compensate its workers. That has not always been the case.

There have been plenty of lean years in state government. In the last legislative session, lawmakers were able to provide some catch-up. Now, with rising wages in the private sector, lawmakers are wisely making an effort to stay even on wages and benefits.

North Dakota’s economy is going through a great deal of change. The pressure on state government to respond often falls on the shoulders of state employees. Making sure that they are paid wages commensurate with their work is the responsible thing to do.

Unfortunately, the House on Friday refused to approve the compromise hammered out by a conference committee.

The final solution should be in the middle ground between the House and Senate.

Make it happen.