Parson touts benefits of state pay increase plan

Julie Smith/News Tribune photo: Flanked by Speaker of the House Dean Plocher on his right and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe on his left, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson delivered the annual State of the State speech Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, in the House of Representatives Chamber. The speech was paused numerous times as members of the joint session of legislators stood to applaud.

Another pay increase for state employees is essential to fight high turnover rates and compete with the private sector, Gov. Mike Parson told lawmakers during this year's State of the State address.

The recommendation, included as part of Parson's Fiscal Year 2023 Early Supplemental Budget request, 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.

Parson challenged lawmakers to pass the bill along to his desk for his signature by March 1.

He applauded the contribution of his cabinet during the speech, noting a functional and successful state was impossible without the support of the state employees who make it happen.

"As many of you know, the recruitment and retention of state employees has been a severe problem for our state. And while we have made considerable advancements like wage increases, deferred compensation and professional development opportunities, more is needed," Parson said during the annual address. "Supporting our state workers means supporting the people of Missouri, and we are not done yet."

The Republican executive pointed toward the children's division of DSS, which focuses on the safety and well-being of children across the state, is one of the most understaffed among government agencies. He said the $22 million infusion would alleviate the stress of a depleted workforce through new hires and enhanced support for struggling families.

He said the proposal wasn't an attempt to shake up the market, but to keep up with it.

"If we allow state government to fall behind, we allow Missourians to fall behind," he said. "We must do more and do better for our children, our families and the future of our state. We've come a long way -- but for Missouri to stay on the move, so does state government."

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 and the remainder of federal and other funding sources, according to the budget bill.

The governor's office said the proposal 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.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have applauded pay raise proposals in the past as the state workforce struggled to keep pace, but not everyone said Parson's request goes far enough. House Minority Floor leader Rep. Crystal Quade told reporters following the speech it was a good place to start, but more needed to be done to retain a robust workforce.

"I know that we are the last in the country, and we know that it's been a topic of discussion for a very long time," Quade said. "This cost of living increase is a starting point. For that I'm grateful, and I expressed my gratitude to the governor."

Quade previously said a couple of increases were not enough to compensate for decades of stagnation in the state's pay rates.

Missouri was reportedly among the lowest-ranked states in terms of state employee pay. OpenPayrolls, the nation's largest nationwide public salary database, says the state's average pay for its workforce was 37.7 percent lower than the national average and 33 percent lower than the average of its fellow states.

Another raise passed by lawmakers as a supplemental bill last year 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.

Last year's effort saw back-and-forth between the two chambers. While Parson requested a set $15 minimum wage for all employees, the House passed a pared-back version setting the floor for front-line workers at $15 an hour and all other employees at $12. The Senate restored the original request, omitting language specific to a minimum wage for the state workforce, and it was signed into law -- albeit past the governor's planned implementation date.

Parson's comments last year were met by a standing ovation and thunderous applause from both lawmakers and guests. The plan received support from across the aisle and from other officials, such as Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, who hails from the area.

Local lawmakers also voiced their support for the previous proposal, and they're also looking at other ways to benefit the state employees that make up much of their constituency.

There are several other bills focused on state employees that have been filed thus far: Jefferson City Republican Rep. Dave Griffith refiled a bill that would allow state employees to be paid biweekly rather than on the same two dates every month, a longstanding effort also filed by St. Louis Democrat Rep. Rasheen Aldridge and Jefferson City Sen. Mike Bernskoetter. Other bills would change retirement systems for state workers.

State employees make up the largest portion of the Jefferson City area's workforce, with around 14,000 state employees calling the Capital City home, according to the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce.

HB 14: Appropriation bill

Sponsor: Rep. Cody Smith

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  photo  Julie Smith/News Tribune photo: Gov. Mike Parson is shown at the speaker's podium as he delivers the annual State of the State speech in the House of Representatives Chamber. The speech was paused numerous times as members of the joint session of legislators stood to applaud.