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State unsure of where job cuts will be

State unsure of where job cuts will be

Officials hopeful pay hike will be restored

June 29th, 2014 in News

A state employee makes her way to the Truman Building's High Street entrance, with the reflection of the Missouri Capitol in the glass, at the end of the business day on Friday afternoon.

Photo by Kris Wilson

The state is expected to cut 263 full-time positions statewide and another 23 new positions in the new fiscal year, as part of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's announced cuts to the 2015 budget.

Last week, Nixon announced the vetoing or freezing of more than $1.1 billion of spending in the state's next budget, including eliminating a total of 286 state positions, withholding the funds for a planned 1 percent pay increase for state employees and vetoing the funds for a salary commission study.

Nixon initially said he was eliminating 260 full-time positions and closing 19 regional state offices, including seven Department of Revenue offices, six Department of Mental Health offices and six Department of Natural Resources offices. These eliminations add to the 4,600 positions eliminated since Nixon became governor in January 2009.

The announced core eliminations are: 7 positions within the State Tax Commission;

52 positions within tax assistance offices;

11 positions within the Division of Environmental Quality satellite offices;

1.5 positions within the Small Business Regulatory Fairness Board;

11 positions within the Department of Corrections;

156.17 positions within the Department of Mental Health; and

24 positions within the Department of Social Services.

Another 23 new positions will be cut from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Department of Higher Education, Department of Public Safety, Department of Mental Health, Department of Health and Senior Services and the General Assembly's Joint Committee on MoHealthnet.

Linda Luebbering, state budget director, said none of the Natural Resources or Mental Health office closures will be in Jefferson City, but six of the 52 Department of Revenue positions at taxpayer assistance centers will be at the Jefferson City location. Luebbering said she was unable to specify on any of the other eliminations and how they may affect Jefferson City.

Since it's the positions that are being eliminated, it is possible some employees may be transferred to other positions.

"I do not know how many of the positions will ultimately be layoffs. Departments are minimizing potential layoffs, but there will likely be some," Luebbering said in an email. "The budget is severely out of balance and reducing costs is necessary."

And regardless of what happens with the budget in the next few months, and whether revenues do better than expected, Luebbering said the eliminations are not anticipated to change.

Nixon also withheld the $5.95 million for 1 percent pay increases for state employees, which was set to begin Jan. 1, though those funds may be released if more revenue becomes available.

In the 2013 fiscal year, state employees making less than $70,000 were given a 2 percent raise. It was the first pay increase for state employees since 2008. Last year, all state employees were given a $500 across-the-board increase.

On average, Missouri state employees rank as the lowest paid state government workers in the nation.

Rep. Mike Bernskoetter said withholding the pay increase only hurts state employees as Missouri moves into a new fiscal year.

"Unfortunately, there are very few advocates for state employees at the Capitol building and I keep hoping that the governor will become one of them," Bernskoetter said in an email. "Even a 1 percent raise is beneficial to Mid-Missouri businesses and schools."

In a statement Tuesday, Rep. Jay Barnes said he was "greatly disappointed" in Nixon's actions, but hopeful the withholdings could be later reinstated. Barnes reiterated that sentiment in an interview Thursday, saying he's hopeful the funds for the 1 percent pay raise for state employees will be reinstated, along with other withholdings that affect state employees, such as the match for deferred compensation.

"I'm still hopeful that that will not be withheld in the end," Barnes said. "The majority of items affecting state employees were withheld, not line-item vetoed, so I'm still hopeful that those items are not going to be withheld at the end of the day."

But Nixon did veto a $300,000 line item for a state employee compensation study. The study has been suggested by the Legislature's Joint Interim Committee on State Employee Wages since 2012, which would be the first complete compensation study done on state pay since 1984.

Because the study was vetoed, the only way to reinstate the funding is through a legislative override, which Barnes said may not be a priority for legislators.

"I'm not certain if that's a provision which there will be an attempt at override," Barnes said. "I think there are a lot of different things in flux on overrides."

Bernskoetter agreed, saying it's too early to say if an override of the study's veto will be sought.

"We'll have ongoing discussions between now and the veto session in September to determine what makes the most sense," Bernskoetter said. "I hope (Nixon's) budget restrictions do not hide a deeper conviction that Missouri's economy is heading in the wrong direction."

Sen. Mike Kehoe was unable to be reached for this story.