House committee scales back governor’s pay raise plan for Missouri state workers

Missouri House of Representatives
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(Missouri Independent) – Hundreds of custodians, clerks, and cooks working for state agencies would not get the raises Missouri Gov. Mike Parson promised in December under a spending bill approved Monday by the House Budget Committee.

On a party-line vote, with Republicans supporting the bill and Democrats opposed, the committee approved a spending bill that sets a $15-an-hour base wage for state employees engaged in personal care at veterans’ homes, state mental health facilities, and other institutions.

Unlike Parson’s plan, which called for a $15 an hour base wage for all state workers, the committee’s plan pushed by Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, makes $12 an hour the state worker minimum wage.

“It would be an unfair advantage to artificially inflate the wage for those minimum wage jobs,” Smith said during debate of his plan Monday. 

All state workers will get at least a 5.5% pay hike under the bill.

Democrats accused Smith of breaking a promise made to state workers and ignoring the staff shortages that state agencies say can only be cured by better pay.

“Every department director pleaded with us that they needed it,” said state Rep. Ingrid Burnett, D-Kansas City. “This was a budget developed and put together and made from the recommendations of smart people who understand how to do this.”

The raises are part of a supplemental spending bill for the year ending June 30. The changes cut $7.8 million from the estimated $91 million cost of the raises.

Other changes in the bill cut the total cost from $5.3 billion to $4.6 billion. The committee cut two large items funded by federal COVID-19 relief — $195.8 million that would be used by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and $277 million for child care provider grants — pushing those items into the next fiscal year. 

The committee also cut Medicaid funding requested by Parson, which Smith said reflected lower estimates of the program’s cost through June 30. The cuts are not intended to deny coverage to anyone added to the rolls because of Medicaid expansion, he said.

“My intention is to fully fund Medicaid through the end of the year with this bill,” Smith said.

The future of Medicaid expansion, however, is not as certain. 

Along with the supplemental spending bill, the committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Smith that would give lawmakers the power to determine Medicaid eligibility on an annual basis.

The proposed amendment also approved on a 22-9 party-line vote, would require the state to seek approval from federal oversight agencies to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients.

Most of the committee’s meetings, however, focused on whether the revised pay raise plan meets the state’s needs. The legislature is already a week late delivering the bill to Parson, who wanted the raises to take effect on Feb. 1. The vote Monday is only the first step in a process that will likely take a minimum of two or three weeks to complete.

Data compiled by the House Appropriations staff shows 694 full- and part-time state employees are paid less than $12 an hour. The list includes 110 custodial workers in the Department of Mental Health and 80 custodians in the Department of Public Safety, which operates the state’s veterans’ nursing homes.

The state employs the equivalent of 6,813 full-time employees who make between $12 and $15 an hour. That group includes more than 1,100 court clerks in the judiciary, 221 administrative assistants in the mental health department, and 159 food service workers in the Department of Corrections.

At a public hearing on the bill last month, state Budget Director Dan Haug said turnover in-state jobs was 26% last year, and more than double that, 55%, for employees earning less than $30,000 a year.

Full-time work at $12 an hour is $24,960 for a year. An employee earning $15 an hour would make $31,200 a year working full-time.

A family of three is eligible for food stamps if household income is less than $28,550 a year.

The House budget committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Peter Merideth, said he objected to a payment plan that would give the state’s top-earning employees, making more than $100,000 per year, another $5,500 or more in pay, while denying a few hundred dollars to the lowest-paid workers.

“The people at the bottom of the pay scale are getting the least in the budget,” Merideth said.

Smith said the bill will help bring new employees to fill the most crucial jobs.

“The intention is not to give the lower rungs lesser increases but to not pay more than minimum wage for jobs that are truly minimum wage jobs,” Smith said.

Before the committee brought the bill up for debate, it held a hearing on the proposed budget for Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe’s office. As he finished answering committee questions, Kehoe was asked his opinion of the pay raise plan as proposed by Parson.

“When you live in this area and you get behind a state employee at the grocery store and they use a food stamp card, something needs to be done,” Kehoe told the committee.

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Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy, and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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