The Missouri Legislature's Joint Interim Committee on State Employee Wages has a renewed life.
On a 29-0 vote Tuesday, the Senate joined the House in extending the committee's work through the end of 2016, with a report due to the Legislature and governor by Jan. 31, 2017.
"The goal of the committee is to determine a long range plan for state employee compensation," Sen. Mike Kehoe explained as he asked the Senate to support the resolution.
Formed in 2011, the committee originally was asked to "develop strategies for increasing the wages of Missouri's state employees so Missouri will no longer rank 50th among states regarding state worker wages."
Rep. Mike Bernskoetter sponsored the original resolution in 2011, and the follow-up resolutions in 2012 and this year to keep its work going.
He was named the panel's chairman in November 2011. Members include fellow Jefferson City Republicans Kehoe and Rep. Jay Barnes.
After determining Missouri government employees were at the bottom of the list of all states when it comes to paychecks, Kehoe reminded the Senate Tuesday, "We got to the point where we needed some resources to do some total compensation studies - which hasn't been done in this state since 1983."
In 2012, the panel heard from three different consulting firms about how they would do a total compensation study, but none were hired because the committee had no money.
This year, the budget lawmakers passed last week includes $300,000 for that study.
"Those same folks who would do that for us would also tell us what other states are doing," Kehoe explained, "and how to, maybe, figure out better career paths and a better trajectory" for state employees.
Kehoe recently told the News Tribune an outside consulting firm that does this kind of study on a regular basis will be able to do the job better, and provide more information, than if the Office of Administration or another state agency were assigned to do the work.
Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, worried the committee really was trying to see how to make the wages leaner.
Kehoe said the committee's challenge is finding ways to improve wages and benefits when - for a number of reasons - the workforce has been getting "more lean."
"This isn't always a popular thing to say, for somebody who lives in this district," Kehoe said, "but the reality of the situation is - we need to do the best job we can for taxpayers, to provide the services they need when they call an agency of state government.
"But we want to make sure our employees are in the best position to provide those services."
He added: "This is more than about somebody standing up on the floor one day and saying, "I know how to balance the budget - let's lay off 5,000 people.' We've got to stop doing that, because it really is not good for our employment, and it's not really good for moving forward.
"This is really about designing a 10-15 year plan that we could implement over those years and, slowly, get to the right workforce and compensation, so that we can move forward in a clear direction for those folks."