There’s interest in Jefferson City to quickly address Missouri’s bottom-of-the-barrel standing for state worker pay.
A panel of lawmakers have examined a new study which ranks the Show-Me state dead last in employee compensation.
The analysis recommends increasing wages for all workers to the same level of entry-level employees on the open market. To fill this gap, the state would need to find more than $13.5 million within its $27 billion budget.
Republican Representative Mike Bernskoetter,
who chairs the committee examining the issue, says he’s open to cutting some other expenditures in order to boost worker pay. “If we’re going to forfeit education or roads, I don’t know about that. But hopefully it takes precedence over some expenditures, ya.”
Berskoetter also doesn’t think finding the money will be such a heavy lift. “I’m very hopeful, very optimistic that we can get that 13-plus million in the budget to at least get us to the minimum of where we need to be.” Even with the extra money, Missouri would only reach the minimum salaries proposed in the study.
The analysis didn’t examine what would be needed to elevate the state out of 50th place for worker compensation. Bernskoetter thinks a lot more money than the $13.5 million will be required to improve the ranking. “That’s definitely a starting point, but there’s a lot more if we want to get out of the basement.”
Republican Representative Jay Barnes thinks raising state worker salaries would actually save the state money by avoiding outsourcing of work to more expensive private contractors. “I think we’ve seen that, especially in the Department of Social Services with the outsourcing of caseworkers in juvenile cases” said Barnes. “The state is paying an arm and a leg to contractors to do something when…long term it would be better for the kids, and save the state of Missouri money, if we just paid normal state employees more.”
The state Commissioner of Administration, Doug Nelson, thinks state workers could be more equitably compensated if salaries were not determined by structured steps in pay grade, but by an open range system. “What happens (with steps) is, we’re paying a ten year experienced engineer about $2,200 more than an engineer we’re just bringing in.” The study showed base salaries provided by the state are closer to the market rate for lower-level positions than for higher-level positions which tended to lag more behind the open market rate.
The research was conducted by CBIZ, which describes itself as an accounting provider and employee benefits specialist. Six lawmakers – four Republicans and two Democrats – who make up the Joint Interim Committee on State Employee Wages. Five of them heard a presentation Wednesday from CBIZ outlining its study. One of the Democrats was on the phone, while the other Democrat did not attend.