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Missouri could launch overhaul of state worker pay in January

Missouri could launch overhaul of state worker pay in January

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Missouri Capitol

Missouri Capitol

JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri lawmakers could begin work as soon as January on a plan to boost the pay for state government’s lowest-paid employees.

A joint House and Senate committee met Wednesday to review the results of a $324,750 report that concluded Missouri’s employees are the lowest-paid in the nation.

The 25-page report, released in late July, bolsters contentions that the low pay leads to high turnover rates in many state jobs. That costs taxpayers additional money in overtime and training.

“The fact that Missouri ranks 50th is not something I’m very proud of,” said Sen. Shalonn “Kiki” Curls, D-Kansas City.

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, said he hopes the panel can meet again in January to begin implementing some of the changes recommended by St. Louis-based consulting firm CBIZ Human Capital Services.

“It does seem like it’s doable in the budget,” said Bernskoetter, whose district includes thousands of state workers.

The study found that the average pay for a state worker is $39,682 a year, putting Missouri 50th among the states.

The study didn’t include all state employees, covering 37,906 workers out of Missouri’s 50,324 active employees.

Left out of the study were positions at the state’s education bureaucracy, the Missouri Highway Patrol and the state public defender’s office.

“A comprehensive evaluation of all statewide job titles was not feasible due to financial limits,” the study noted.

Of those, the study found there are 5,050 workers earning below what workers in similar jobs make in other states and private industry. It would cost over $13 million to boost their pay alone.

But the price tag could be balanced against the added costs brought on by high turnover.

At the Missouri Department of Mental Health, for example, a separate 2015 report said 25.7 percent of its employees left the workforce in 2014. The state’s largest agency — the 10,958-employee Department of Corrections — had a turnover rate of 16.3 percent.

In addition to boosting the pay for some state workers, the study recommended reducing the time it takes a state worker to qualify for a pension. A five-year wait — rather than the current 10-year period — might induce more workers to stay on the job for a longer period of time.

The study determined that Iowa pays its state workers the best in the nation after the wages are adjusted at $70,458. That is more than $2,000 higher than the No. 2 state, California.

Illinois is ranked third at $65,343. Kansas’ adjusted salary level of $52,352 is ranked 21st. Kentucky is 42nd with an adjusted average wage of $46,768.

In addition to bipartisan support from lawmakers, both candidates for governor support boosting pay for state workers.

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