JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — Democrats are saying Republicans are dragging their feet in raising state workers’ wages to $15 an hour.
Missouri employs more than 50,000 state workers and they are among the lowest-paid in the nation. The governor has given lawmakers a deadline of Feb. 1 to give employees a cost-of-living adjustment, but the legislation seems to be at a standstill.
During his State of the State address last week, Gov. Mike Parson called the economy “strong” thanks to Missouri’s response to the pandemic.
“With a historic budget surplus and federal dollars coming into our state, we want to build on our past momentum to capture even greater opportunities for the future of Missourians,” Parson said Wednesday.
“We took a commonsense approach to the pandemic, never shut our businesses down, and have always had a conservative and balanced budget.”
That $5.4 emergency supplemental budget includes a proposal to pass a 5.5% cost-of-living adjustment and $15 an hour minimum pay. Those increases are expected to cost $91 million this year and $218 next year.
“We just got to get competitive and really got to fill some of these jobs out there,” Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said. “Up my way, we have the Cameron Veterans Home that’s only half capacity because they can only half-staff. There is a need to fill those jobs.”
Two weeks ago, the House Budget Committee heard the legislation, which started to get the ball rolling on passing the increase, but since then, silence.
“I suspect there is some Republicans in-fighting over supporting it,” said Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis.
“We might actually have to fight to defend the governor’s proposal, a usual position for us to be in.”
State budget director Dan Haug 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. He said he hopes lawmakers would pass the request and have it on his desk by Feb. 1.
He also told committee members earlier this month, across all state departments, the turnover rate is 26%. He said the industry standard is 10%
“We also have heard from all of our departments that we are in a crisis in every single department in our state of being able to hire and keep workers,” Merideth said. “We all can agree it is an emergency that we get these dollars out the door.”
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.
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said Monday, another positive part of the governor’s budget request is investing more than $700 million in childcare.
“We firmly believe pulling down this barrier is one of the most effective actions we can take to enable more Missourians to re-enter the workforce and fill the vacant jobs that are available across nearly all industries in every region of our state,” Quade said.
Across the aisle, some Republicans are hesitant government might be getting too involved.
“Always have to have a conversation about the role of government and whether it’s the governments’ job to be the babysitter and at what age,” Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden said. “There’s no doubt the problems been magnified because of the realities of the past 22 months, so we need to be aware of that.”
Democrats said they also like the governor’s idea of giving teachers a pay raise. A new educator in the state makes $25,000, the lowest in the country. Parson said last week he wants to increase the baseline salary to $38,000.