By Eli Yokley
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Lawmakers in both chambers approved legislation that would increase state employee pay in Jefferson City and across Missouri by $500.
The raise would go to employees making less than $60,000 each year and take effect on January 1, 2014, halfway through the budget year. It increase would be another in a series of pay increases for state employees. Last year, the House approved a 2 percent pay raise for employees making less than $70,000 a year. That increase took effect in July.
Public labor advocates say this is part of a long-term approach to raising the status of Missouri pubic employees, some of the lowest paid in the country.
“We’re grateful to both Rep. Stream and Sen. Schaefer for their hard work on the state employee pay plan,” said Josh McCarroll, legislative director for AFSCME Council 72, which advocates for state employees. “This is a good step forward in making sure our employees aren’t paid the lowest in the country.”
Gov. Jay Nixon had called for a 2 percent increase for all state employees, but the House opted for a flat $500 increase. That increase is not on the table when lawmakers go into conference, but another is. The Senate budget includes pay increases for mental health workers, level one and two prison workers, and workers at the state’s veterans homes, many of which were not in the House’s document.
The potential pay increases are part of debate over the state’s more than $24 billion fiscal year 2014 budget, which is headed to a conference committee in the coming days. While it is not certain who exactly will be on that committee, it is clear that there will be some major hurdles to jump before the two chambers can come to agreement.
The Senate budget would cut funding significantly from the Missouri Department of Revenue, specifically targeted at the Division of Motor Vehicles as well as from the Department of Public Safety, as lawmakers continue to express concern about the legality of the two agencies sending private source documents to the federal government.
The upper chamber’s plan also slashes funds from waste management districts, a key priority of Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.
While his bill to completely eliminate the districts is stalled, Schaefer was able to use his position on the committee to cut $22 million of funding for the districts.
The House’s plan assumes passage of a handful of revenue bills, including one for ending the “circuit breaker” tax credit for elderly and disabled renters, to remain balanced. If not, lawmakers would have to find some $56 million elsewhere.
Schaefer, speaking with reporters, said while ending the tax cut was part of the governor’s original budget, he has since indicated to him that he would veto its repeal.
“It came to our attention that the governor’s position now is that if he’ll get that bill he’ll veto it, so we changed some of that money around,” he said. “If it passes, most of it will go into the supplemental pool for Medicaid.”
The budget does not spend millions in federal funding to expand the state’s Medicaid rolls. It was part of Nixon’s budget request, but lawmakers in both chambers have blocked attempts to raise the issue. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said last Friday that any expansion of Medicaid with federal funds would be part of a process that extends into next year. Dempsey said he would name an interim committee to explore reforms to the program when they leave in May.
Lawmakers are constitutionally bound to pass a budget by May 10, as it will go into effect in July 1.
To contact Eli Yokley, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter at @eyokley.