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Missouri lawmakers voice need to increase state worker pay

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers are being asked to approve a pay boost for state workers as soon as possible because many departments are being forced to pay overtime due to 7,000 job openings across state government.

Gov. Mike Parson wants to use the state’s multi-billion-dollar surplus to give state employees a raise to offset inflation and keep employees from leaving for better paying jobs. His plan includes the largest pay raise in Missouri’s history, an 8.7% cost of living adjustment, as state operations are being stretched thin.

“We’re seeing this labor market is very competitive, and we feel like to try and stay in touch with the market, we need to do this as quickly as we can,” State Budget Director Dan Haug told the House Budget Committee Monday.

For the second year in a row, lawmakers are tasked with increasing pay for state workers. Last year, employees received a 7.5% pay boost after lawmakers approved an additional 5.5% at the end of February, on top of the 2% increase workers received in January 2022.

“Our turnover rate has started to come down a bit, we’ve started to bend the curve but it’s still way too high,” Haug said.

Haug told members the state’s average turnover rate is 27%. He said last year, the state topped out at its highest rate, over 30%. The Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development has the highest turnover rate at 37%. Following closely behind is the Department of Mental Health at 35%, the Department of Revenue at 34% and the Department of Corrections and Department of Social Services at 33%. The state agency with the lowest turnover is the Department of Conservation.

“I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth and say, but again it doesn’t seem like it’s actually going to fix the problem,” Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said.

Missouri employs 50,000 workers who are among some of the lowest paid in the nation. Merideth asked Haug during the committee hearing, if compared to other states, are Missouri’s workers still towards the bottom of the list for pay overall?

“We are, but if you put in the benefits, we climb up some, we’re not at the very bottom,” Haug said.

The committee discussed the governor’s proposal Monday which includes increasing the shift differential to $2 an hour for state congregate care employees who work overnight at prisons, mental health facility and veterans nursing homes. Those state workers fall under the Department of Social Services (DSS), Department of Corrections (DOC), Department of Mental Health (DMH) and the Missouri Veterans Commission.

“Those are shifts that are particularly difficult to hire for,” Haug said. “Right now, we have about a 30-cent shift differential. You work an eight-hour shift, it’s alike $2.40. That’s not much of an incentive to try and get people to work some of those shifts.”

Currently, Haug said departments are using money from vacant positions to pay for overtime and contracted staff. The state has a surplus of roughly $6 billion, and some think the pay raise should be more.

“We’re trying to stem the bleeding just slightly by keeping up with the cost-of-living increase but we’re not keeping up with the wages in the market,” Merideth said. “We’re not keeping up with the fact that our state workers are already underpaid, even before the economic changes that have happened.”

Haug said before the pandemic, the state was paying closer to the market value, but since has not kept up. He explained that in Fulton, where the state has a large mental health hospital, a forensic hospital, a corrections institution and the state school for the deaf, another major employee in the city is Dollar General. “They have a big warehouse and when I was here last year talking to you, they were paying $17.38 an hour, and we were trying to get closer to that,” Haug said. “They are now paying $21 an hour.”

Parson is asking the General Assembly to move fast and have the legislation on his desk by March 1, so state workers can receive an increase in their paycheck by the end of the month.

Within the bill that includes the pay raises for state workers, there is legislation for $20 million worth of school safety grants.

“Eligible expenses could be physical security upgrades, technology, training costs and safety plan updates,” Haug said. “We feel like this is something that is important enough that we need to get it started as soon as possible.”Overall, House Bill 14, the emergency supplemental budget, bill totals at $625 million. These funds will be used through the end of fiscal year 2023, which is June 30.

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