Republican leaders in the Missouri House are calling on Governor Jay Nixon (D) to support using improved state revenue to build a pay hike for state employees into the next state budget.
The $26-billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 did not include a pay increase for state employees. Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) and Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan (R-Carthage) are telling Governor Nixon the next budget needs to include one.
Representative Kevin Engler (R-Farmington) pushed for that to be a priority.
“I’d like to see at least a 3-percent raise, and if we could sustain that for a year or two that would cost a little over 40-million. We spend 40-million on a lot of things. I think we should at least have a priority to spend it on our employees,” said Engler.
Engler’s district includes hundreds of employees of the Department of Corrections. Some of that Department’s former guards have moved to other states after completing training, knowing they can make significantly more money working for a neighboring corrections system.
Engler says the starting salaries Missouri offers to new state employees are not competitive.
“When they can go and work at a retailer and make more money, and when we ask them to be qualified – some of these positions you have to have degrees for – we have to make sure that we’re competitive in the environment or all we’re going to do is attract people who can’t find jobs elsewhere,” said Engler.
Engler says with state revenue improving, there’s a good chance money for a raise won’t have to come out of other programs.
“The governor wants to give 40-something million to the universities. We’ve given them more and more and more every year, and we haven’t given our employees – it’s not like we’ve been expanding our payroll. When I first got [into the legislature] we had 60-something thousand employees. Now we’ve got like 51,” said Engler.
Nixon did last week tell officials with Missouri’s two-and four-year colleges and universities he is proposing a 6-percent, or roughly $55.7-million dollar increase in performance-based state funding for higher education. When asked about the pay raise idea Wednesday his spokesman said he has not made decisions about a proposal for the Fiscal Year 2017 budget.
Some lawmakers when discussing state employee pay have said Missouri doesn’t need to have the best paid workers, but should shoot for something closer to the middle. Engler agrees.
“Illinois has got itself in a fiscally irresponsible position. We don’t want to go that far,” said Engler. “But we have to be able to pay – if they put themselves in a position where it’s a very difficult job and they have to be working overtime when they’re forced to do so, and they have to be working in tough conditions, they should be competitively priced in the market and they’re not right now.”
While the Fiscal Year 2016 budget did not include a raise, it did include $300,000 for a total compensation study to compare Missouri workers’ pay with that of their counterparts in other states and in the private sector. A staffer for State Senator Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City) confirmed his previously stated position that he wants to see that study move forward to help build the case for a long-term solution to state worker pay that would make it more competitive, but said that doesn’t mean he would oppose an increase in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget.
Engler says how a raise would be structured is also important.
“If you pay a percentage raise then the higher end people get more money, whereas if you pay a flat dollar figure that’s not fair to the management,” Engler said. “So what we did in years past, we’ve taken half of the raise in percentage and half the raise in dollar, and that’s what I’m going to be recommending.”