Missouri’s state employees have carried the title of “lowest paid in the nation” for some time now, and while the new governor has stated his commitment to better pay and more jobs in the Show-Me State, it seems that their wait will not be ending anytime soon.
Workers have seen raises in 2016, 2012 and 2008, but those increases did little in terms of giving Missouri’s state employees an equitable pay compared to other states. While it did increase their wages, the state still remains firmly in its position as the state with the lowest paid state workers in the nation.
The average pay for a state worker is $39,682 a year and compared to some of the neighboring states, it’s a far cry from catching up anytime soon.
Iowa pays its state workers the best in the nation after the wages are adjusted at $70,458. Illinois is ranked third at $65,343, while Kansas comes in at $52,352 for 21st. Kentucky is 42nd with an adjusted average wage of $46,768.
To even pull the state out of the 50th spot, it would cost at least $13 million, per a report released by Gov. Jay Nixon’s office in 2016.
The report, compiled by St. Louis-based CBIZ Human Capital Services found that the base salary for 37,906 state employees is more than 10 percent below what is considered competitive in the job market.
In her final State of the Judiciary speech, Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court Patricia Breckenridge urged the General Assembly to increase higher state employee pay, crediting Missouri’s workers as “hardworking, dedicated, and deserving of our respect.”
“Our state employees are the lowest paid in the nation,” she said. “I know budget times are tight, but we must find a way to pay them 21st-century wages for 21st-century work.”
But one thing to keep in mind when viewing all of these statistics is how much money each department is paying their employees each year.
Over the past 10 years, the Department of Agriculture has increased their overall spending for employee wages nearly every year. In 2007, the department reportedly paid $11,695,067.76 in gross pay to 1,452 employees. In 2016, that number was $15,859,281.82 for 1,359.
Another example is the Department of Conservation, which has fluctuated over the past decade, paying 2,482 employees for a total of $69,300,693.21 in 2007, while 2,252 employees were paid $67,172,861.28 in 2016.
Missouri pays roughly $2 billion each year for all of their state employees, and though the total amounts increase and decrease nearly every other year, the thing that has remained a constant trend is downsizing the workforce through job consolidation and attrition.
Indeed, Missouri continues asking its employees to do more with less, and could very well be asked to do even more.
During his State of the State address, Greitens stated that Missouri has too many government workers.
“Our best state employees are being hurt by a big bloated bureaucracy. In Indiana, they have 46 state employees per 10,000 people in their state. In Illinois, they have 47 state employees for every 10,000 people. In Ohio, they have 55. And in Missouri? We have 92 employees for every 10,000 people in our state. Because of this, we are 50th out of 50 in state employee pay. We need to change that.”
But to compare that to some of the neighboring states, Missouri doesn’t come in with the most per residents. Out of Missouri and the surrounding states, the Show-Me State sits somewhere in the middle of the pack in this instance. Arkansas sits at the top with an estimated 119 state workers per 10,000 residents, while Nebraska comes in second with 101. Kentucky lands third with 100, while Kansas and Oklahoma tie for fourth with 94.
His 2017-18 budget plan, released in early February, envisions the use of 54,589 full-time employees across the state. That number is down by roughly 7,000 employees when compared to the 2004-05 budget of Republican governor Matt Blunt.
Greitens’ $27 billion state budget plan proposed cutting 188 positions, “through vacancies and attrition” but acting Budget Director Dan Haug stressed that no layoffs will be needed.
The report says that issue isn’t just with the pay. Missouri is behind a number of states when it comes to the length of time workers have to wait before qualifying for a full pension. Missouri requires 10 years, while many other have cut that down to five years.
While no allowances for employee raises were included in his budget, Greitens stressed his commitment “to maintaining the state’s benefits package for its hard-working public servants. Other states across the country are jeopardizing state employee retirement benefits by not adequately funding their pension systems.”
Haug told reporters during a budget summary press conference the governor’s proposal to fully fund the contribution for state employees’ pensions and funding the state health care plan will add $55.6 million to the state’s expenses. The 2016 report did show that benefits, including health insurance, are better than average, but still not enough to offset the low salaries. Even Greitens’ promise to fund the health care plan move simply keeps costs from rising.
Studies on the issue have shown that low pay leads to high turnover rates in many state jobs, costing taxpayers additional money in overtime and training.
During a House Budget Committee hearing, MoDOT director Patrick McKenna spoke to legislators about their request for a 1.7 percent pay raise across the board for MoDOT employees. McKenna says the $4.3 million increase would help to address some of the issues of low morale within the department, as well as combat a growing issue they are having in retaining employees, as they are leaving MoDOT for better-paying jobs with county and city municipalities in the same line of work.
Those issues are not just affecting MoDOT. Other agencies have reported the loss of staff as well in sometimes alarming numbers.
According to a 2015 report filed by the Office of Administration’s personnel division, the Missouri Department of Mental Health saw 25.7 percent of its employees leave the workforce that year. The state’s largest agency — the 10,958-employee Department of Corrections — had a turnover rate of 16.3 percent.
The issue of low pay for state workers has long been a topic of discussion among Missourians, one that most lawmakers all seem to agree needs to be addressed. Most lawmakers will tell you they would like to give the workers a raise, but at the end of the day, nothing seems to happen, as it all simply boils down to whether or not the state has enough money in the budget to support a raise.
That has not stopped some lawmakers from trying to push forward in the fight for better compensation for state workers. Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, has been a vocal supporter of working toward raises for employees, calling Missouri’s workers the state’s number one asset. He has said more than a few times that he and other lawmakers will continue working “within the constraints of the budget” to find the money to make pay raises a reality for Missouri’s state workers, though no raises were forthcoming during this year’s legislative session.
Greitens’ hope of addressing that issue is by locating areas in which job duties can be consolidated. His arguments throughout the campaign and while in office have revolved around the ideas of how Indiana has done things in their state, and better.
“Our government employees do important work—often really important, life-saving work. We need to reward the greatest in government service with better pay,” Greitens said. “This is how a good business would run. We’d pay and promote our best people and make sure they know they are valued. And we’d have a government focused on doing fewer things but doing them well. That’s how we’ll be able to pay our star performers what they deserve.”
And there is other good news that could be a benefit to some state workers. Lawmakers continue filing legislation seeking to give state employees 10 consecutive workdays of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. That legislation was filed in the House by Rep. Jay Barnes and in the Senate by Sen. Caleb Rowden, but did not cross the finish line in either chamber this year.
And while it may not have affected most employees, it was given the support by a number of legislators.
But one senator wanted to take it even further. Sen. Jill Schupp filed legislation that would apply to non-government workers in Missouri as well. It would have allowed all employees who are not independent contractors up to six weeks of paid time off upon the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, to tend to a personal health condition or to assume any responsibilities that result from a spouse, child or parent being notified of an impending call to active duty in the armed forces.
Employees would be required to contribute annually to a fund administered by Missouri’s Department of Labor, and benefits would only be available after a worker has contributed to the fund for one year. The program would be available in 2020.
For now, state employees will have to take comfort in the fact that the legislature made sure to fully fund the Missouri State Employees Retirement System, more commonly known as MOSERS. The House suggested a $15 million funding bump, but the Senate worried that underfunding the state’s pension fund could have long-term negative impacts on the state’s budget, so they added an additional $45 million in funding.
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.