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Parson: More state employee pay raises needed

by Ryan Pivoney | March 22, 2023 at 4:03 a.m.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson shakes hands with some Department of Agriculture employees Tuesday, March 21, 2023, after he presented a proclamation celebrating National Agriculture Week. (Julie Smith/News Tribune photo)

Gov. Mike Parson wants additional pay increases for state employees, he told Missouri Department of Agriculture staff Tuesday.

"You've received a 20 percent pay increase in the time I've been here, and we aren't done yet," Parson said to a round of applause. "Now, don't expect 8.7 every year -- give me a little slack there somewhere."

The Republican governor signed the largest state worker pay increase in recent memory at the end of February. It included an 8.7 percent cost of living adjustment for all state employees and bumped the shift differential paid to overnight and weekend employees in direct care positions to $2. That increase will appear on state employee paychecks at the end of the month.

Last year, lawmakers approved an emergency supplemental bill with a 5.5 percent raise and $15 minimum wage for state employees.

In an interview, Parson said he doesn't yet have expectations for what future pay increases might look like.

"We've got to get through the budget year this year, and then we'll focus on that next year," he told the News Tribune.

Parson said shaving down turnover rates for state agencies is a long-term effort. Staff turnover was exceeding 30 percent across state government before last year's pay raise, state budget director Dan Haug said, and dropped to about 27 percent by the end of 2022.

"We're going to keep working on them," Parson said. "We're going to keep trying to find ways to help our state employees out, to be competitive with the benefit packages, with the pay as much as we can. But we've got to be smart about it too, you know."

"It's a matter of how do we really start this and how do we maintain it, and what we can do next year," he continued. "But it will be on the table again next year. If we can do something more, we will. If we can't, we'll be honest with them and say, 'Hey, here's where we're at.'"

Parson has previously said the state needs to focus on employee benefits when trying to recruit new workers. During his time in the Legislature, he said Tuesday, it was the tendency of lawmakers to put the needs of state employees last.

The governor spoke to MDA employees at their central office in Jefferson City to present a proclamation celebrating National Agriculture Week.

Christi Miller, MDA communications director, said National Agriculture Week is a time to celebrate farmers and ranchers as well as the state employees that support them.

Parson and MDA Director Chris Chinn thanked staff for their continued service to farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers through drought, flooding and increased farming costs over the past year.

"Sometimes you guys are the overlooked people in the crowd," Chinn said. "We are the ones at the Department of Agriculture who make sure that the job gets done at the end of the day behind the scenes, so each of you are the unsung hero."

Miller said the last year was difficult with drought and flooding, but farmers are resilient and so is MDA staff. Many are agricultural producers themselves, which Miller said brings in a different level of passion and understanding to the work they do with the state.

Missouri is a national leader in agriculture.

The world's largest concentration of plant scientists is in St. Louis, according to MDA, and the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor contributes more than half the world's total animal health, diagnostics and pet food sales.

The state ranks among the top five in the nation for hay and rice production, as well as number of farms, beef cows and goats, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's among the top 10 for corn, soybean and cotton production and number of turkeys, hogs, broiler chicken, horses and ponies.

Agriculture is considered the state's top economic driver with an estimated $93.7 billion in economic impact. There are approximately 95,000 farms in Missouri and nearly 460,000 Missourians employed in agriculture, forestry and related industries, according to MDA.

Nationally, agricultural industries are responsible for more than $8.6 trillion, or about 20 percent, of U.S. economic activity, according to the annual Feeding the Economy report.

Accompanying the pay raises is an expectation that state employees do more, Parson said. There's no better recruiter for state agencies than the employees already working there, he added.

"I'm not going to lighten up on that," he told state workers.

The state workforce should feel like they are part of something, Parson said.

He recounted his administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated chaos as it began unfolding. From that experience, he said he realized answers to issues facing the state often rest with the people working on behalf of state agencies.

"You got to depend on state employees, you've got to trust them because at the end of the day, they're the ones you're going to have when your back's against the wall," Parson said.

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