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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — State workers are closer to getting a pay raise, but which department you work for could affect how big the pay boost is.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson wanted lawmakers to increase all state employees’ wages to $15 an hour and to do it by Feb. 1. Instead, the House passed a bill Thursday, nearly 10 days after the deadline, that would only give that raise to workers in frontline positions. The governor disagrees with the plan and hopes it changes before it makes it to his desk.

“For a governor that was not inclined towards pay raises, he now recognizes we are in an emergency, a crisis,” said Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis. “Every single one of the department heads has told us they are having a nightmare of a time hiring and retaining workers.”

Missouri has the lowest-paid state workers in the nation, which is why Parson recommended a 5.5% cost of living adjustment and $15 an hour minimum pay, but Republican representatives don’t all agree with the governor.

“Remind them [state workers] that we care about the tax money that they give us, that they entrust to us,” Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, said. “Let’s not lose sight that it’s not just about the workers, I agree, I think we all agree, it’s about the workers, but it’s also about keeping the basic operations of government solid and making sure that after we’re gone, we can say that we’re responsible.”

The governor’s proposal is expected to cost $91 million this year and $218 next year.

Missouri has roughly 50,000 employees and after the House approved the emergency supplemental budget bill Thursday, only workers in “direct care” roles or agencies, like those working at the state’s veterans’ homes or in the Department of Health and Senior Servies (DHSS) will receive $15 an hour. The remaining state employees would receive a 5.5% increase and set the base minimum pay at $12 an hour.

“That $12 an hour worker would get a 66 cent an hour raise,” Merideth said. “That is not going to address our crisis.”

The House budget chairman Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said departments could give employees raises with money from vacant positions, but that concerns the ranking minority leader on the budget committee.

“Sure, flexibility may allow them too, but they’re having to use the holes from vacancies to pay for the cost of vacancies,” Merideth said. “Overtime costs are more hour, so they are having it ay a whole lot of overtime to get the jobs done.”

Smith said in a budget committee Monday, it would be an “unfair advantage to artificially inflate the state workforce wage for those minimum wage jobs where they don’t necessarily need to be paying $15 an hour.”

Parson still wants to see all state workers receive the same pay increase. In a statement Thursday, a spokeswoman said:

“Governor Parson is pleased that the General Assembly continues to advance the supplemental budget bill, which includes long-overdue pay increases for state workers. There is no team member in state government that is worth less than $15 per hour, and Governor Parson remains hopeful that any supplemental budget bill sent to his desk will include the funds necessary to better pay Missouri’s public servants. “

Earlier this week, Lieut. Gov. Mike Kehoe told the House Budget Committee he’s seen state workers at grocery stores in Jefferson City paying with food stamps.

State budget director Dan Haug previously told the committee there are more than 4,000 job openings across state government. Those working for the state received a 2% raise at the start of the year, but Parson said the only way to be competitive is with a higher wage.

Haug also told the committee last month, across all state departments, the turnover rate is 26%. He said the industry standard is 10%.

“The opportunity to at least raise our state’s employees’ wages where they maybe have a couple more dollars in their pockets, where they don’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul, and you’re talking about the hardest working men and women of this state, that keep his state running,” said Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis.

The minimum wage for private employers in Missouri in 2022 is $11.15, up from $10.21 last year. Until 2023, the state’s minimum wage will increase by 85 cents.

Over the summer, the governor vetoed $2.1 million that was supposed to go to increasing the salaries of workers in the Children’s Division under the Missouri Department of Social Services. In his veto letter, Parson said lawmakers should not single out one specific agency for a pay raise.

According to Missouri’s Department of Transportation (MoDOT) website, there are dozens of job openings. Before the start of winter, MoDOT warned drivers to be patient during winter weather because the department is short on employees to clear roads.

The department’s director, Patrick McKenna, said in an interview last fall, MoDOT needs 200 to 300 seasonal workers for winter months, but they are nowhere near that.

House Bill 3014, which totals more than $5 billion, also includes roughly $2 billion dollars for schools and another billion for the state’s Medicaid program. The legislation now heads to the Senate where it needs approval before going to the governor.