Our Opinion: Panel on state employee salaries needs more time

News Tribune editorial

A legislative committee exploring state salaries has entered a labyrinth.

“This is the most complicated, crazy pay system I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City and a committee member. “Private sector people look at these things and say, ‘This is unbelievable.’”

The Joint Interim Committee on State Employee Wages is navigating the maze successfully, so far.

The group’s charge is to advance recommendations to lift Missouri’s state employee salaries from the lowest rung, in comparison with other states.

The prolonged economic downturn does not allow Missouri to raise employee pay in a single, sweeping move.

Instead, it must be done incrementally.

As an initial step, panel members agreed to endorse Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed 2 percent, across-the-board pay increase in the next budget year, which begins July 1.

The endorsement, however, does not constitute a long-term plan.

Looking ahead, the committee is studying what other states have done. The investigation has prompted some panel members to suggest adopting the Kansas model after conferring with officials in our neighboring state.

The group also confronts a dilemma — whether to ask the Legislature to commit money to hire a consultant to study the issue.

Spending money to study salaries rather than improve salaries makes some committee members justifiably uncomfortable.

Kehoe concedes, however, “when you have this complicated a program, you, unfortunately, sometimes need an outside source and pair of eyes that’s an expert, to look at it.”

Meanwhile, the clock is running. The interim panel faces a deadline at the end of the month to submit its report and recommendations.

We believe the issue is too complicated to be addressed in the 30-day time frame. Even if a consultant is hired — which we believe is premature — the panel risks an incomplete, rush job.

We prefer Kehoe’s suggestion that the interim committee seek more permanent status.

Missouri’s state employee salaries did not descend to last place among the 50 states in a month.

More than 30 days will be required to chart a process to lead state workers out of this abyss.

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