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Missouri House votes against own pay raises

January 21, 2015 at 4:25 a.m. | Updated January 21, 2015 at 4:25 a.m.

Missouri representatives voted against increasing their pay - and the salaries of statewide elected officials - by voting for the two House resolutions blocking the proposal.

These two resolutions reject the raises proposed by the Missouri Citizens' Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials.

House Resolution 4 was sponsored by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City. The resolution passed with 133 votes for and 15 against, it will now move on to the state Senate where it faces an uncertain future.

"I'd say it's 50-50," Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, told reporters Tuesday evening. "Stay tuned - nothing ever is (a slam-dunk) over here."

Richard, whose job is to schedule and manage floor debate on bills, wouldn't be specific about what senators are telling him they think of the anti-raise resolution.

Asked if he, personally, supports the proposed raise, Richard said: "I haven't decided, yet."

Barnes told the House that he did not think the elected officials warranted a pay raise at the time, and it would be more appropriate to give the money to the state employees.

"Our state employees are currently ranked 50th out of 50 in the country for state employee pay," Barnes said. "At the very same time, state legislators in our state enjoy the 16th highest salary of state legislators in the country."

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St Louis, called the representatives not voting to raise elected officials pay spineless, and not raising the pay for state employees spineless as well.

Colona said low wages for state employees was a red herring for the issue, and lawmakers will have a chance to change the state employee pay raises to a more substantial amount.

Without raises for the elected officials, Colona said, the Legislature is in danger of creating a body of only rich representatives - which is not appropriate.

Recently, the Washington Post reported data from both the U.S. Census Bureau and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that, on average, Missouri paid its state employees less than any other state, and individually the state employees were at or near the bottom of every industry that the Census Bureau measured.

House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, responded to the question of low state employee pay by saying he wants to keep a qualified work force in the state while operating within the constrictions of a responsible budget.

Minority Floor Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St.Louis, said the amount of wages for state employees is embarrassing and the House Democrats would be happy to work with any bipartisan legislation that would raise state employee wages.

Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, said during his campaign that state employee pay was one of three major issues with his constituents. He currently is searching for budget funds to conduct a salary study of state employees that will calculate total compensation in terms of wages and benefits. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed last year's $300,000 appropriation for the study.

While representatives are rejecting their raises and trying to start studies, Missouri is losing workers to poorer border states, said Bradley Harmon, president of the Communication Workers of America, Local 6355.

Harmon's organization represents workers from the state departments of Social Services and Health and Senior Services.

"The morale in state agencies is not good these days," Harmon said. "Low pay is constantly one of the top reasons that people who are leaving state employment cite as the reason they are leaving - and the second most common is work load.

"It makes it difficult to get a highly qualified work force."

Harmon said when people leave, the work load stays the same and is divided among the remaining employees.

That causes offices to be understaffed and services to lose quality and the speed at which they are delivered, he said.

As an example, Harmon said a child abuse case should take 30 days to complete - but more than 50 percent of the current cases being investigated have taken more than 30 days.

"Offices are chronically understaffed, so services are not provided quickly enough and, in the case of child abuse and neglect, that is pretty serious," he said. "It can cause a great deal of stress for a family."

Bob Watson of the News Tribune staff contributed information used in this story.


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