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Our Opinion: State of state workers remains stagnant

News Tribune editorial January 25, 2015 at 12:30 p.m. | Updated January 25, 2015 at 12:30 p.m.

Gov. Jay Nixon's State of the State address on Wednesday offered something for everyone, with the possible exception of Missouri's state employees.

Let's begin with Ferguson, where the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer last year prompted both direct and indirect gubernatorial priorities.

In direct response to the shooting, Nixon called for an update to state laws involving the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers. Guidelines and training cannot be over-emphasized, particularly when an officer must act and react in a momentary, adrenalin-fueled encounter that may result in life or death.

The Democratic governor also joined legislators who are considering reforms for municipal courts, which have been blamed for provoking divisiveness. The theory is overzealous ticketing by officers disproportionately penalizes minorities and poor people.

With regard to state finances, Nixon proposed an FY 2016 budget of $26 billion, roughly equal to this year's budget.

Among spending priorities, he proposed a $50 million increase in state aid to public schools. The increase, however, falls far short of the $482 million need to fully fund the state's formula for distributing state aid to local school districts. For higher education, the governor requested a $12 million hike for performance-based funding for public colleges and universities.

Nixon also called on lawmakers to approve $353 million in bonds previously authorized by the Legislature for renovations and repairs to state facilities, including the Capitol, office buildings, college campuses and parks.

State employees, however, were not among the governor's spending priorities.

No pay hike was recommended by Nixon. Budget Director Linda Luebbering said the 1 percent pay raise that began Jan. 1 will continue and health insurance premiums will not increase in the next budget year.

Luebbering also said the ranks of state workers will decline by 217 people, bringing total reductions to more than 5,000 state workers since Nixon became governor during the 2008-09 state business year, which do not include other job reductions made during the Matt Blunt administration.

Those numbers prompt both an observation and a question. Because Missouri's state workers are the lowest paid in the nation and because reductions inevitably require them to do more, why hasn't a portion of the savings from reductions been passed on to them?

Government relies on its rank-and-file workers for timely, efficient delivery of services. Government leaders err when they fail to recognize, and reward, that effort.

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