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9-7-16 House members optimistic about taking first step in improving state employee pay
The chairman of a joint committee on state employee pay is optimistic the legislature could take a first big step toward making that pay more competitive.

Jefferson City Republican Representative Mike Bernskoetter and the rest of the Joint Interim Committee on State Employee Wages heard a presentation from St. Louis-based CBIZ on its study of nearly 38,000 state workers. That study said it would cost the state $13.69-million – a one-percent increase in the state’s payroll - to bring more than 5,000 of those state workers’ pay up to the minimum CBIZ recommends to be market competitive.

Bernskoetter hopes that could be done in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, which legislators will begin work on in January.

“That’s the starting point. The $13-million would get us just to the minimum,”(Audio) said Bernskoetter. “We’ve just got to get started and then hopefully we can go from the start and then work our way into the median range and get the salary for the employees where it should be for the type of jobs they do.” (Audio)

Bernskoetter acknowledged coming up with that money in the state budget won’t be easy. “You saw where the August [state] revenues were down so that doesn’t look good from that side of it, but hopefully we can get that 1-percent and at least get us in that range where we’d like to be.” (Audio)

The next chairman of the House Budget Committee, Scott Fizpatrick (R-Shell Knob), said it’s an achievable goal.

“That amount of money is something that is feasible under the right circumstances, revenue-wise. Revenue-wise and expenses-wise,” said Fitzpatrick. “You have expenses like Medicaid. There’s certain things we really don’t have a choice in funding and paying providers is one of those things, so if circumstances are right I’m sure that’s something that could be done.”(Audio)

CBIZ recommended Missouri get away from using step-based pay structures and move toward a more open range for setting salaries. Governor Nixon’s Office of Administration Commissioner Doug Nelson told the committee he would support such a change.

“What you see in those steps and when you break those down is most of your workforce in that class is within the first two or three or four steps of that range, and that range goes all the way up to twenty, twenty-five. What happens is we’re paying a 10-year experienced engineer about $2,200 more than an engineer we’re just bringing in,” (Audio) said Nelson. “I would be an advocate of having discussion to go to open range. I think it creates more flexibility.”(Audio)

Nelson said going to a range could require changes in administration rules, and possible action by the legislature to change state statute.

CBIZ also recommended the state reduce its requirement that an employee work ten-years to be vested to five-years. Nelson agreed with that recommendation.

“Where we’ve seen the impact … is kind of your tenured, your second career-type folks,” said Nelson. “We have had a lot of people a lot of people pull their names out of potential director, deputy director positions, because they just don’t see themselves being here ten years – whether they want to work that long or whether with turnover and four-year administrations they don’t see getting to ten. I think they could see getting to five, but getting to ten is much more challenging.”(Audio)

Bernskoetter plans to hold another hearing with CBIZ in January after the new session of the General Assembly begins, when more members of the legislature can be present. By then he expects Nelson will have more information on how changes could be made if the legislature decides to pursue them.
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