Our Opinion: Compensation issues for state workers spur frustrations

Ever tackle a seemingly simple task that, once started, revealed greater complexity?

If so, you have an understanding of the challenges, and frustrations, of lawmakers serving on the Joint Interim Committee on State Employee Wages.

The problem is apparent: Studies rank Missouri state employees as lowest paid among their peers in the 50 states.

The obvious solution is to increase salaries.

The budget approved by lawmakers for the current business year, which ends next June 30, includes a 2 percent raise for state workers.

That is a short-term response, but hardly a long-range solution.

The charge to the committee, which received an extension to continue its efforts, is to deliver a “long-term strategic plan for increasing state employee wages.”

Considerations being addressed by the panel include:

• Is a consultant necessary? The committee has heard presentations from four prospective consulting groups.

• Is the focus confined to wages? Should benefits — health and retirement plans, sick leave, vacation, paid holidays — also be considered? If so, how do they compare to offerings from other states?

• Is restructuring and/or consolidation of job titles necessary or desirable? Would the result be an increase or decrease in total compensation?

State Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, the Jefferson City Republican who chairs the panel, acknowledges some state workers are demoralized — not only by their level of compensation, but by the committee’s pace of progress.

“It’s not an overnight process,” Bernskoetter said. “I think this (the panel’s efforts) will give us a long-term plan that state employees can count on in the future.”

All of which raises another challenge for the committee.

As more time elapses, the more expectations will grow that the proposed plan is both responsive and responsible.

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