The state of Missouri hired new employees faster than usual in the last quarter of 2010.
Hiring by state agencies in that quarter was up 17 percent; state agencies hired 1,085 new full-time workers in the quarter, compared with 924 hired in the same period of 2009.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said a clue to the hiring surge could be new retirement rules that kicked in for state employees on Jan. 1.
Employees on the payroll before Dec. 31, 2010, don't have to contribute to their pensions. Those joining the ranks since Jan. 1 do. They must chip in 4 percent of salary and work longer to earn pensions.
Emily Smith, a spokeswoman for the Office of Administration, said agencies made their own decisions on whether to fill vacancies in December. She said there was no information to determine whether some tried to beat the retirement changes.
Since he took office in January 2009, Gov. Jay Nixon has eliminated scores of state jobs - including 863 positions in the coming year's budget - to stem budget shortfalls. Even with the increased hiring in late 2010, the total number of people on the state payroll was down compared with a year earlier - to 59,069 from 61,465.
Hiring was up, however, in 12 departments, as well as the offices of the public defender, attorney general and secretary of state. Of those who beat the deadline, 16 started work on Thursday, Dec. 30, the last state workday of the year.
Nixon's budget director, Linda Luebbering, also said she wasn't concerned about the surge in new employees late last year. She said nearly half the new employees work in three departments - mainly as prison guards, caregivers in mental health institutions and protective services workers for abused children.
"Departments know what their budgets are, and they're filling within their available budgets," Luebbering said.
A recent hire, Randy Holman, the former Jefferson County assessor, who resigned that post when he was appointed by Nixon to the State Tax Commission on Dec. 15, said the impending retirement changes had nothing to do with starting work in late December.
"I didn't even have a clue" about the pension changes, Holman said. "I found out much later that I got in right under the deadline."