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Wainwright State Office Building

The Wainwright State Office Building in downtown St. Louis, shown in at 2012 photo, is home to a number of state employees. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

(This is an updated version to show correct amount of raise as $700 per year.)

JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri prison guards, child welfare workers and other members of the nation’s lowest paid state workforce will have to wait an additional six months to see larger paychecks under a budget plan approved by the Senate Wednesday.

Facing rising health care costs for state employees, the Senate voted unanimously to delay giving workers $700 per year raises until Jan. 1, 2019, rather than when the state’s fiscal year begins July 1.

Sen. Dan Brown, a Rolla Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it wouldn’t make sense to give workers raises if they were wiped out by an increase in health insurance premiums.

“If we do not do something about health care, then the premiums likely would increase twice as much as the pay raise,” Brown said. “I think we benefit every employee in the State of Missouri by this move.”

A 2016 study found that Missouri workers, ranging from prison guards to nurses at mental health facilities, are the worst paid in the nation, with an average salary of about $39,000. The pay issue has caused high turnover in some agencies, leading to increased overtime and hiring costs.

Under the proposed spending blueprint, workers earning under $70,000 would receive a $700 per year raise. Workers making over $70,000 would see a 1 percent raise.

The decision to withhold spending on state worker salaries was among a number of changes to the $27.8 billion spending plan that will be negotiated between the House and the Senate before it is sent to the governor’s office for final approval.

The budget is based on projected revenue growth of 1.9 percent in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Among the significant changes in the Senate version is a reduction in a proposed funding hike for secondary and elementary education.

The House had voted to add $98 million in order to fully fund the state’s kindergarten through grade 12 state funding formula. But Brown wants to earmark more money for school busing costs.

The final version approved in the Senate on a 25-8 vote raises aid to the funding formula by $48 million. The plan would send $25 million more to the school transportation fund and funnel $10 million to the state’s employee health care program to offset increases there.

The remainder of that money – about $15 million – would go toward increasing reimbursement rates for nursing home facilities.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, called for an increase of $50 million for schools, but her proposal was rejected. She and Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, bemoaned ongoing attempts by Republicans to cut taxes at a time when the state cannot generate enough money for schools.

“We need all the money we can get,” Nasheed said.

Republicans said the funding decision was a matter of prioritizing a limited amount of money. In all, the budget for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is $6.1 billion.

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“I would love to do more in education, but we’ve got lots of needs in the State of Missouri. This is a careful balancing act,” said Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby.

Higher education, meanwhile, may be spared the budget ax. While Greitens had proposed reducing funding to state universities and community colleges by $68 million, the Senate and House ignored his recommendation and kept funding steady on the condition that universities don’t raise tuition rates by more than 1 percent.

The spending outline for colleges and universities, which was approved on a 31-1 vote, also includes an extra $2 million in emergency spending relief for Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis.

The Senate was expected to work into the evening on plans for the Department of Health and Senior Services and the Department of Social Services.

Among potential conflicts facing lawmakers is a proposed change in budget language that Planned Parenthood says could leave thousands of low-income Missouri patients without access to birth control or cancer screenings.

“Federal law ensures patients covered by Medicaid have the right to see `any willing provider’ of their choice. The restrictions in (House Bill 2011) would put the entire Medicaid program in violation of federal law,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

Also on tap for further debate Wednesday is spending for the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Corrections and statewide officers.