State employee pay hike heads to Missouri House floor

The Missouri Capitol is shown in Jefferson City on May 13, 2022. (Photo by Tessa Weinberg/Missouri Independent)
The Missouri Capitol is shown in Jefferson City on May 13, 2022. (Photo by Tessa Weinberg/Missouri Independent)

The House Budget Committee gave initial approval to an emergency supplemental bill that would increase wages for most state employees, sending it to the full chamber for its consideration.

HB 14, the legislative vessel for Gov. Mike Parson's supplemental proposal, would implement an 8.7 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all state employees, among other funding priorities.

The request would also up the shift differential -- an extra bump in pay for those working outside of normal business hours -- for congregate care staff within the Department of Social Services (DSS), Department of Corrections (DOC), Department of Mental Health (DMH) and the Missouri Veterans Commission.

The version that passed the committee unanimously Tuesday afternoon added in a segment of the state's workforce that had been omitted from the shift differential proposal, bringing judiciary employees such as those working in juvenile centers into that provision.

The substitute version also omitted elected officials, including lawmakers and statewide officeholders. While many of his constituents are state employees who have voiced the need for a pay raise, Wardsville Rep. Rudy Veit said the inclusion of elected officials had been a concern of his since the bill was unveiled.

"Even though a lot of legislators will need the money, I don't want that to be the factor that would cause the bill to fail and not provide our state workers with a well-earned and needed pay raise," said Veit, who is not a member of the committee. "I think it has a better chance of getting passed if we omit legislators from it."

In lieu of the omission, Budget Chair Rep. Cody Smith's new version upped legislative expense accounts from $700 to $750 a month.

Not everyone on the committee supported the change.

St. Louis County Democrat Rep. Kevin Windham said some lawmakers relied solely on their legislative salaries rather than income from jobs outside of the Legislature.

"We do a job, and it's an honorable job, but we've got to eat," Windham said. "I don't have another means of income besides this job. I do it because I love it, but Ameren doesn't take love payments."

Other members on his side of the aisle pushed for higher wages for state employees based on their work situations. Rep. Betsy Fogle, D-Springfield, proposed an amendment that would have upped the COLA even more for front-line care workers, a focus of last year's pay raise debate.

While she knew the effort wouldn't make it past the committee, Fogle said she wanted to at least get the conversation on job-based pay increases going.

"I wanted to start the conversation about what it looks like if we do move to a targeted pay raise model," she said. "I recognize that we need pay raises across the board, but those that are living and breathing to make sure that our individuals with disabilities have a safe place to lay their head at night and that our children have a safe environment to thrive in, I think they should be at the top of our list when we're talking about pay raises."

Several other Democrats proposed similar amendments that were struck down, though Smith said the committee could revisit the issue of job-specific increases -- either based on a dollar amount or a percentage increase -- later in the session.

"I think you make a good point that the $2 universal shift differential is really not the right tool for the job, that perhaps a percentage would be a little more fair given the range of jobs that we're discussing and the various skill that is required for those jobs," Smith said. "I think this is probably not the right place or time to discuss changing the shift differential. But I would love to continue to discuss that with you and members of the committee in the Fiscal Year '24 budget."

The bill totals around $625 million.

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