Parson’s proposal targets about 85 state employees

Just more than seven dozen Missouri government workers could face salary adjustments or freezes under a bill state Sen. Mike Parson wants lawmakers to pass this year.

Parson, R-Bolivar, told a Senate committee last week it makes little sense to have employees making more than the state’s top elected official, the governor.

“If you’re going to be the ‘highest elected official’ in the state,” Parson told the state Senate’s Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee, “I don’t think people should be getting paid more than that.”

But, according to the Office of Administration’s website, www.mapyourtaxes.com, 85 people whose state paychecks are issued through the Office of Administration now make more than Gov. Jay Nixon’s $5,575.87 per paycheck — or $133,820.88 a year.

Parson told the News Tribune last week the situation is “getting way too lopsided,” especially where “ex-legislators and ex-commissioners (now are) making lots of money through the state. ... It is a worthwhile thing to have (a conversation about salaries) when, all of a sudden, you have bureaucrats or you have other people making more than the (chief) executive.”

OA spokeswoman Wanda Seeney told the News Tribune last week those people “earning a salary higher than the governor” mainly are Mental Health department physicians, judges and a few department directors.

The state’s executive branch has 15 departments, the Office of Administration and offices headed by six people elected by voters statewide.

The governor appoints, and the state Senate confirms, the directors for OA and 10 of the 15 departments — Agriculture; Corrections; Economic Development; Health and Senior Services; Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration; Labor and Industrial Relations; Natural Resources; Public Safety; Revenue; and Social Services — and none of those directors currently are paid more than Nixon.

Doug Nelson, the commissioner of Administration, earns $5,165.30 per paycheck, or $123,967.20 a year.

The other directors are listed at $5,000 each paycheck, or $120,000 a year.

But three Social Services department employees make more than the governor and their director — Robert Ian McCaslin, M.D. and a division director, earns $6,974/paycheck, or $167,376 a year; Special Assistant Professional Samar Muzaffer is paid $6,875 per check, or $165,000 a year; and Special Assistant Professional Rhonda A. Driver earns $5,883.34/check, or $141,200.16 a year.

The other five state departments are supervised by independent boards and commissions, whose members are appointed by the governor with the state Senate’s consent.

But those boards hire the department directors — and four of the five pay salaries higher than the governor’s.

Chris Nicastro, commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, leads that group with $7,725 per paycheck, or $185,400 a year.

Higher Education Commissioner David R. Russell is next, at $7,083.34 per paycheck, or $169,992 a year.

Nicastro and Russell both have doctoral degrees in education.

State employees are paid twice each month, and the pay information used in this story is based on the first five checks of the year — through March 15.

With that listing, former Transportation Director Kevin Keith — who left his job on medical leave effective March 21, but still is entitled to his pay until he retires July 1 — came in third, at $6,995.50 each paycheck, or $167,892 a year.

Keith’s successor, Acting Transportation Director David Nichols, was the agency’s chief engineer and, in that post, also was paid slightly more than the governor — $5,586.50 each check, or $134,076 each year.

Keith and Nichols both are licensed engineers.

Conservation Director Robert L. Ziehmer earns $5,833.50 each paycheck, or $140,004 a year.

The fifth director hired by an independent commission is Mental Health Director Keith Schaefer, who also holds an educational doctorate.

Unlike the other directors responsible to a commission, the Mental Health director must be confirmed by the state Senate.

And, also unlike the other four, Schaefer earns less than Nixon — and less than the other department heads — at $4,744.22 each paycheck or $113,861.28 a year.

But Schaefer’s department has almost 40 professional employees — including doctors, doctor specialists, psychiatrists and psychologists — who earn more (often substantially more) than Schaefer or the governor.

Through March 15, those salaries ranged from a high of $13,441.92/check ($322,606.08/year) for Staff Physician Specialist Sekhar Vangala (who earned $347,124 last year), down to Colleen T. Loehr, another staff physician specialist, who earns $5,632.42/check, or $135,178.08 a year (and earned $215,300 last year).

Seeney cautioned that some of the pay information on the OA website may include overtime pay, comp time pay or other out-of-the-normal pay that could inflate some numbers.

Freshman state Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City and a former House Budget Committee chairman, urged Parson to consider exempting professional staff like those in Mental Health from the proposed no-salary-higher-than-the-governor’s law.

Parson told the newspaper: “I’m not saying I’m willing to exempt them. I’m willing to have a conversation about it.”

Salaries for the statewide elected officials, including the governor, are to be set every other year by the Citizens Commission on Compensation, which also sets salaries for lawmakers and judges.

Those salaries automatically go into effect unless lawmakers in each house reject them by at least a two-thirds margin.

Since the commission never was organized last year, there was no report this year for lawmakers to debate — and no raises to be approved or rejected.

None of the other five statewide elected office holders earn more than Nixon.

The lieutenant governor — who succeeds the governor if the governor can’t do his job as the Constitution requires — earns $86,484 a year, or about 65 percent of the governor’s salary.

The other four statewide elected officials earn more than the lieutenant governor but less than the governor.

According to the state website, Attorney General Chris Koster is paid $4,851.55 on each check, or $116,437.20 each year.

State Auditor Tom Schweich and State Treasurer Clint Zwiefel earn $4,489.43 for each paycheck, or $107,746.32.

And new Secretary of State Jason Kander is paid $4,489.41 on each paycheck, or $107,745.84 each year.

The commission also sets salaries for Missouri judges — and that’s where 39 people are paid more than the governor.

The Supreme Court’s chief justice — who is Richard Teitelman until July 1 — earns $6,425.62 per check, or $154,214.88 a year, which includes extra pay for the administrative work that goes with the post.

The other six high court judges earn $6,149.62/check, or $147,590.88 a year.

And the 32 appeals court judges are paid $5,611.87 every two weeks, or $134,684.88 a year.

Parson said he wants his bill to be “the start of a conversation. You know, it’s late in the (legislative) session — do I think this bill’s going to move this year?

“Probably not. ... But you can’t, at budget times when you’re trying to cut the budget over the past several years, keep extending high contracts to people.”

Parson says he’s heard “over and over and over again” that people say they can make “more money in the private sector” than in a state job.

“But most of the time when a state job is posted, it’s filled,” he said. “People want to work for state jobs.”

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