Extension for state wages committee sought

The Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee on State Employee Wages wants to hire a consultant, to do a complete study of state workers’ salary and benefits.

But for the past two years, the committee hasn’t won any money in the state budget to pay for such a study.

So state Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City and the interim committee’s chairman, wants the Legislature to extend the committee’s life for another two years, “so we can continue to meet.”

Bernskoetter presented his resolution Monday to the House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee.

“We have been meeting for three years,” Bernskoetter explained. “We’ve done what we could on our own, with the House Research Staff.”

At the end of the first year, 2011, the interim committee confirmed what most in state government were pretty sure they already knew: Missouri government workers rank last among the 50 states in wages earned.

But some have suggested that, when other benefits are added to those paychecks, the picture’s not so bad.

So, committee members determined in 2012, hiring a consultant to study the total pay plan and benefits — and to compare those with other states and with private businesses, should give everyone a better total picture.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, has been an interim committee member and is ready to sponsor Bernskoetter’s resolution in the Senate.

He sees the panel as the “long-term look for what we’re doing for state compensation — it’s more the 10-, 15- or 20-year look.”

Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville, who chairs the House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee, told Bernskoetter during Monday’s hearing: “Two issues that I’ve been working with tie directly into this resolution — I’ve found that caseworkers for the Division of Children’s Services have no structure for raises.

“And I also found that, although the General Assembly approved a step-increase program for the Highway Patrol, it’s never been implemented.”

Bernskoetter said many state employees have planned salary step increases built-in to their jobs — but they haven’t been implemented.

In fact, Bernskoetter told the committee, Missouri already has an employees’ salary scale, “and we don’t, actually, go with the scale. We just do $50 here, $500 here (and) 1 percent here, so the scale’s all out of whack.”

Kehoe also sits on the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, where he helps shape the annual pay plan lawmakers eventually write into the budget.

He noted that, for the first time, the House-passed budget includes $300,000 for a consultant to study Missouri employees’ pay and benefits.

“This is a complete compensation study, which we haven’t had done since 1984,” Kehoe explained. “I know there are some state employees who say, ‘Why don’t you just give us that money, and skip the study?’

“Well, it comes down to about $6 an employee a year — or 50 cents each month. Although every amount of money is precious, I think investing in the baseline so that we, the local (lawmakers) have something to talk with other lawmakers about — what is the true baseline and where do we want to go for future generations? — I think it’s a good investment.”

Bernskoetter told the News Tribune he’s not sure the two-year extension will be enough.

“It will take awhile for the consultants to do their part,” he said, “and, once the consultants do their part, it will take time for us to implement it.”

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