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The proposal from Missouri Gov. Mike Parson comes as state agencies struggle to find and keep employees.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson this week recommended bumping the pay floor for state employees to $15 an hour, and also providing them a 5.5% cost of living adjustment.
The move by the Republican governor comes as agencies in the state are having difficulties filling jobs, and dealing with high workforce turnover. It also mirrors actions other governments around the country are taking to raise pay for public employees as they compete for workers in a tight labor market.
"With many positions across state government facing turnover rates anywhere from 10-100 percent and vacancy rates from 30-100 percent, it is past time for us to make these investments in our state workforce, which remains one of the lowest paid the nation," Parson said.
"Our direct care and front line staff often make less than entry-level retail positions," he added. "These public servants have tough jobs and rarely receive the thanks they deserve, and communities all across the state rely on them everyday."
Parson's plan calls for raising minimum base pay for all state workers to $15 an hour and would raise pay to that level for anyone earning below it. It would also up wages for other workers to address "compression issues" between pay grades after the $15 floor is in place.
The governor is calling for the pay increases as part of a fiscal year 2022 supplemental budget plan that will require legislative approval. Parson will formally introduce this spending blueprint at the outset of a legislative session set to begin in January. Key lawmakers are voicing support for the pay proposal.
"This will ensure that the state is able to retain talented employees who will continue providing essential services to the citizens of our state," Missouri House of Representatives Budget Chair Cody Smith, a Republican, said in a statement. Senate Appropriations Chair Dan Hegeman, also a Republican, offered a similar endorsement.
Parson's office said the pay plan he has put forward for fiscal 2022, which began July 1, would cost $91 million. Missouri's total operating budget for this spending cycle is set to be about $35 billion.
The governor announced the plan days after a bipartisan board that governs Missouri's transportation department filed a lawsuit against the state's acting commissioner of administration, asking a judge to rule on whether it had the power to direct money from a road fund to pay higher wages for department employees. The Jefferson City News Tribune reported on the suit last week.
A Growing Trend
Parson isn't the only state or local decision maker backing higher pay for public employees.
At least three cities—Milwaukee, New Orleans and Tallahassee, Florida—recently increased the minimum wage for municipal employees to $15 an hour. Other states and localities have offered signing bonuses specifically for police officers. And some places are tapping federal aid dollars to cover public worker bonus pay.
In general, governments, like private sector employers, are having trouble recruiting and keeping workers for certain positions.
Parson noted that veterans home care attendants, residential aids for vulnerable children and highway workers are among Missouri's lowest paid state workers. "Yet they are critical to maintaining state services and increasing the quality of life for all Missourians," he said.
Despite the pandemic, Missouri's budget has been in good shape over the past year, with a surplus in the $2 billion range. Plus, the state is in line to receive nearly $2.7 billion under the main direct aid program for state and local governments included in the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal Covid-19 relief law.
Bill Lucia is a senior editor for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.