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Pay raise one of many options for state workforce growth

by Cameron Gerber | January 22, 2023 at 4:02 a.m.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson reiterated the need to "build the bench" of state government with a robust workforce during his annual address Wednesday.

And there are several tools being considered to get the job done.

For Parson's part, a raise for state workers for the second session in a row is the immediate plan. 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.

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.

"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."

Other Republicans are attempting to improve conditions for state workers through other legislative efforts. Jefferson City Republicans Rep. Dave Griffith and Sen. Mike Bernskoetter are both sponsoring a bill that would allow state employees to be paid every two weeks rather than the same two dates every month, a change they said would increase the number of paychecks per year without costing the state anything to implement.

"We're really doing some good things for the state of Missouri as a whole -- not only for our state employees but all of our taxpayers as well," Griffith said in a previous interview. "The most important thing is that we take care of our state employees, and this was just another way to listen to their needs and show how much we appreciate them."

St. Louis Democrat Rep. Rasheen Aldridge also sponsored a version of the bill this year.

The proposal has received bipartisan praise in the past and even passed both chambers last session -- though it was vetoed by Parson due to amendments that would renew a bevy of agricultural tax credits for a shorter period than he's hoped for, eventually leading to a brief special session.

Rep. Rudy Veit, a fellow Republican representing the Wardsville area, is sponsoring a bill that would set retirement eligibility for state employees when their age and years of credited service reach 80, rather than the current standard of 90 years.

Rep. Dirk Deaton, meanwhile, filed legislation that would exempt the Missouri State Highway Patrol from the requirements of state employee pay plans. While the provision would be attached to a section of statute that asserts no state employees can receive a different amount of compensation based on the geographical location in which they live or work, Deaton's office did not respond to a request for more information on the bill.

While the other side of the aisle applauded the governor's focus on a more robust pay scale, House Minority Floor Leader Rep. Crystal Quade said there was more that needed to be done.

"I'd like to note that the governor himself said this was the minimum raise that was needed. But we need to go well beyond minimums to get employer pay closer to the middle of the pack nationally," Quade told the News Tribune. "What has been announced is the bare minimum to keep up with inflation. We need more, especially in departments with the biggest crises, if we want to stop having the lowest paid state workers in the country and start investing in the workers that serve our people every day in such important ways."

Quade said focus needed to be directed toward on-site childcare options for state employees, an issue that local leaders have brought up as a concern of employers throughout the Jefferson City area. Parson's budget recommendation does include a $78.5 million child care subsidy, which Quade said was a welcome inclusion.

She also said her side of the aisle would like to discuss help with college tuition for in-demand fields that could help fill the gaps in struggling departments and raises for other sectors that rely on public funding, like teachers and direct-care workers.

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