State employees would receive a pay raise beginning January 1 under the budget the legislature proposed last week, and their health care benefits would also be bolstered.
The legislature approved a budget that would increase by $700 the pay of employees making less than $70,000 a year. Those making more than $70,000 would receive a 1-percent increase.
It would also pump $61-million into the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan – the insurance program for most state workers. Budget makers say MCHCP was close to depleting its reserve funds, and they hope that the infusion of money in this budget will stave off premium increases for state employees.
“I don’t think there’s enough discussion in the state right now on the condition of Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan,” said Columbia representative Kip Kendrick, the leading Democrat on the House Budget Committee. “Any new funding that we could do for them this year – I’m glad we could get to $61-million in new decision item funding for Missouri Consolidated – it’ll help offset that. I suspect there will be plan changes and premium increases, but it will help us at least keep those costs somewhat contained.”
The budget also includes an additional $350-per year increase in pay for prison guards. House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said lawmakers have heard that the Department of Corrections has had increasing difficulty in hiring and retaining guards, and that is in part due to the offered salary not being great enough.
Fitzpatrick and Kendrick agreed that while there are employees throughout the state to whom they would like to give greater pay increases, corrections officers’ pay needed immediate attention.
“The raise we agreed to specifically for corrections officers combined with the raise for all state employees amounts to over a $1000 increase, which for some of these corrections officers who are making in the high 20s, low 30s per year I think is significant,” said Fitzpatrick. “That, by itself, probably isn’t going to be a game-changer but hopefully it’ll help reduce turnover and help us with the issue we have with the vacancies in that area.”
$3.2-million would go to increase pay for public defenders. Kendrick said the average public defender starting out is making $39,000 a year.
“Typically having a new law degree and an average debt of over $100,000, $39,000 does not go nearly far enough. We needed to do what we could make sure we increased pay for public defenders to somewhat balance the justice system again,” said Kendrick. “Nothing against prosecutors – prosecutors are great. They tend to be paid much better than public defenders and when you have that it kind of tilts the balance even more so in the direction of the prosecutors.”
Kendrick said bolstering the state’s public defenders could save the state money by slowing the growth of its prison population.
The budget also includes a $6.3-million boost in pay for the state’s Highway Patrol troopers.
Fitzpatrick said perhaps more significant for state employees than the pay and benefits increases in this budget could be funding for a reward for performance study requested by the Office of Administration.
“We’re going to give them the opportunity to go out and really study all the job classes in the state – what we’re asking people to do and trying to compare and find out what the market rate is on that, so that we can get a real good sense of what job classes we really need to focus on,” said Fitzpatrick. “I think we have some job classes in the state that are probably overpaid, I think we probably have some that are severely underpaid, and some that are probably right about where they need to be.”
Fitzpatrick said with the information from that study the legislature could begin, even next year, working to get Missouri out of last place among all states in employee pay.
The legislature’s budget lays out more than $28.3-billion in proposed spending of state-controlled money. It was approved on Wednesday, two days ahead of the constitutional deadline, and will next be sent to the governor.