Governor recommends another wage increase for state workforce

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks at the state Capitol in this undated photo by the governor's office.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks at the state Capitol in this undated photo by the governor's office.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson recommended another pay increase for state employees this session, seeking to boost recruitment and retention.

The recommendation, included as part of Parson's Fiscal Year 2023 Early Supplemental Budget request sent to state lawmakers Wednesday, would implement an 8.7 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all state employees.

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 increase would cost a total of $151.2 million, according to the Governor's Office, with $82.4 million earmarked from the state's general revenue coffers. It was formulated based on the increase given this year to Social Security recipients and the U.S. Department of Labor's Consumer Price Index, which measures the change in price for consumer goods and services over time.

Parson encouraged the General Assembly, which is required to approve state salary adjustments, to pass the bill by March 1 to ensure the change would be visible on employees' March 31 paycheck.

The governor said a pay increase was necessary to help bolster the state workforce, which has struggled with recruitment and high turnover rates over the past few years.

Data published by the Missouri Budget Project, a public policy research group, employment in the overall government sector decreased by 13.2 percent between February 2020 and June 2022.

"There is no question that the recruitment and retention of state employees have been a severe problem for our state, and we must do better," Parson said in a statement. "This is why we are again recommending an immediate cost of living increase for our state team. With 7,000 positions open across state government, this wage increase is necessary, and it is the minimum we must do to support our state workers and the people of Missouri."

Supporting and bolstering the state workforce has been a priority of Parson and the legislature over the past few years, with a sizable COLA and new wage floor passing as part of a supplemental budget bill early last session. The previous effort boosted state workers' pay to at or above $15 an hour and implemented a 5.5 percent COLA. The bill also accounted for wage compression for those employees already making above $15 an hour.

In last year's request, Parson said turnover rates within state government had hit 10 percent and beyond, and vacancies had surpassed 30 percent. He said the state workforce was among the lowest-paid in the U.S., even after prior COLAs passed during his tenure in the Governor's Office.

"We want to be clear, this is not state government attempting to set the market. This is merely an attempt by state government to stay competitive with the market," Parson said. "If we allow state government to fall behind, we allow Missourians to fall behind. This is not something we are willing to accept, and we ask the General Assembly not to either."

Heads of several state departments voiced their support for the proposition, citing the hard work state employees undertake and the gaps within the workforce that needed to be filled.

"Our Department of Public Safety team members perform tremendously important work with skill and dedication, on our highways, in our Veterans Homes, and many other locations that require staffing 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," DPS Director Sandy Karsten said. "We appreciate Gov. Parson's recognition of their hard work and his commitment to providing competitive salaries to fill critical positions and retain our professional team members to serve Missourians."

DSS Acting Director Robert Knodell said the proposal would make the state a more competitive and desirable employer, while DOC Director Anne Precythe praised lawmakers' support for the state's workforce. DMH Director Valerie Huhn pointed to the $2 an hour shift differential, saying it would make a world of difference for state-operated programs that run around the clock.

"It acknowledges that increased pay is needed for the state of Missouri's front-line team members who work during hours when other staff are home with their families," she said. "The daily work these public servants do is vitally important to thousands of vulnerable citizens."

House Minority Floor Leader Rep. Crystal Quade, a Democrat from Springfield, said the proposal needed to go further.

"As a starting point, the governor's proposed pay raise for state employees has merit. But it isn't nearly enough to end Missouri's sorry status of having the worst average state worker pay in the nation," Quade said in a statement. "A couple years of modest improvement simply isn't enough to overcome decades of shortchanging state workers with annual raises that ranged from the minuscule to the nonexistent. To be competitive in recruiting and retaining workers, state government must do much more."

Parson is expected to name other priorities for the 2023 session during his State of the State address next Wednesday.

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