It's been a month since Gov. Eric Greitens acknowledged Missouri state employees are last-in-the-nation in overall average pay and suggested they might get more raises if there were fewer workers.
But a review of some statistics comparing Missouri with other states suggests the discussion may not be simple.
"Our best state employees are being hurt by a big bloated bureaucracy," Greitens said during his Jan. 17 State of the State address to a joint legislative session. "In Indiana, they have 46 state employees per 10,000 people. In Illinois, they have 47 state employees for every 10,000 people.
"And in Missouri? We have 92 employees for every 10,000 people in our state."
Mid-Missouri lawmakers were quick to question some of those statistics and argued they need more information about those other states before making key decisions about future Missouri government numbers.
State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, cautioned the reduction of state workers' numbers would be tied mostly to attrition and improvements in technology.
And Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, said officials had to be careful not to cut too much.
"I do believe there is a point where state employees can no longer do more with fewer co-workers," he told the News Tribune. "People depend on many services provided by the state, and when there aren't enough experienced people to administer those services our constituents, the people of Missouri suffer.
"In some of the more crucial areas such as corrections officers, social workers and mental health care staff, it becomes detrimental to the safety of clients and staff."
Greitens' office has not identified the source of his statistics, but they generally are in-line with a July 2016 Governing Magazine listing, based on 2014 statistics.
And a separate Governing Magazine study shows Missouri government has the most Corrections and hospitals employees among 10 Midwestern states, based on U.S. Census Bureau statistics calculated from reports filed by the states themselves.
Those statistics also show Missouri has the second highest number of highways employees among the 10 — but ranks near the middle on most of the other seven categories compared in the Governing report.
In a blog post following Greitens' speech, former Kansas City Star editorial writer Yael Abouhalkah said: "Greitens' numbers on state employees are factually correct but highly misleading."
Also using the July Governing Magazine story, Abouhalkah noted: "The Show Me State's mark is just the 26th highest one in the chart" nationally.
He noted neighboring Kansas is at 94 employees per 10,000 residents, New Jersey, 100; Connecticut, 115; West Virginia, 135; Delaware, 190; and on top is Alaska, 245.
Just in the 10-state region, the Governing calculations show Arkansas' 35,172 state workers leads the region with 119 state employees for each 10,000 residents, while Nebraska's 19,067 employees is second, at 101 state workers per 10,000 residents.
Kentucky's 44,292 state workers is third, with 100 employees for 10,000 residents.
And Kansas' 27,301 workers and Oklahoma's 36,454 state employees tie for fourth place in the region, because each calculates to 94 employees per 10,000 residents.
That leaves Missouri in sixth place among the 10 states in the region.
Abouhalkah concluded in his blog post: "Missouri is nowhere near to having the kind of 'bloated bureaucracy' that Greitens claimed."
The former editorial writer also calculated a variety of state pay issues, using an Illinois report and 2014 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis numbers.
According to that survey — which adjusted state employees' pay for cost-of-living differences — Missouri is only 42nd on the list of 50 states.
But Indiana, favorably cited by Greitens, ranked 46th on the employees' pay scale.
The July 2016 Governing Magazine story reminded its readers: "There's a wide variation in the numbers of public employees and how much they cost in each state.
"In Alaska and Wyoming, there are more than twice as many state and local government workers per capita compared to states like Michigan or Nevada.
"The U.S. Census Bureau tallies numbers of government workers as part of its Annual Survey of Public Employment and Payroll (and the 2014 data) depicts wide variation in the prevalence of public employment across the country, driven by numerous factors in individual states."
Both of the Governing stories used data for all 50 states and warned any comparison may be incomplete.
"We've crunched the numbers to approximate the size of both state and local public employment in each state relative to other jurisdictions," the July article said. "Several different measures can be used to assess public employment, and they're all subject to various limitations and are not indicative of government efficiency."
For example, the story reported: "Wyoming's state and local governments employ approximately 446 public workers, excluding education, for every 10,000 residents — the highest rate nationally.
"The state is unique in that it operates an unusually high number of public hospitals, including the vast majority of acute care facilities. Wyoming governments also employ the most corrections employees of any state and the second highest number of highway workers."
This News Tribune article only looks at Missouri, its eight surrounding neighbors (Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky) and Indiana, because that was one of the states Greitens cited in his Jan. 17 speech.
And this article only compares state workers, while the magazine story had comparisons of state workers only and a combination of state and local workers and noted, when making national comparisons, the latter may provide a better picture because of the differences in how state and local governments provide services.
For the 10 states included in this article, some of those comparisons (using 2014 data) include:
Missouri has the 18th biggest population nationally but is third in the region at 6,063,589 — behind Illinois and Tennessee.
Missouri is 21st in the nation size-wise and fourth in the 10-state region at 69,704 square miles — behind Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Missouri's 163-member House of Representatives is the largest in the region and one of the largest in the nation, while the 34-member state Senate is one of the nation's smallest and second-smallest in the region — behind Tennessee's 33 members.
Missouri has the seventh largest state-owned highway system in the country at 33,893 miles, as noted in a Federal Highway Administration report, and is the largest among the 10 states.
Kentucky's 27,638 miles is second largest in the region, and Kentucky's 4,449 highway employees is third in the region — behind Missouri's 5,541 employees and Illinois' region-leading 6,872 workers.
But at 15,976 miles, Illinois' workers maintain less than half the highway system that Missouri's employees cover.
Missouri has the most Corrections employees for the region at 12,289 in the 2014 Census reporting, but it had the second-most prison inmates, with 31,942 housed in 21 facilities.
Illinois' 48,278 inmates topped the region, housed in a region-leading 25 facilities that in 2014 were staffed with the second-highest employee group, 10,856.
Missouri's 10,604 hospitals employees is most in the region, ahead of Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Arkansas.
Missouri's 550 "social insurance administration" workers — which the Census Bureau defines as the "administration of unemployment compensation systems, public employment services, and the Federal Social Security, Medicare, and Railroad Retirement trusts" — rank eighth out of the 10 states. Missouri's total is a third of region-leading Illinois.