McEntee: State employees face tough times, sacrifices
9:00 PM, Feb. 6, 2011 |
Gerald W. McEntee
Critics with an agenda paint state workers as overpaid employees who retire with lavish benefits. They’ve obviously never gotten to know a Missouri worker on the front lines. None get rich. Some have trouble feeding their kids. Many are dropping their insurance this year. One out of every 19 people who were state employees in 2008 has seen his or her position disappear.
It is easy to target state employees during tough economic times. Many pundits falsely conclude that spending on state workers is the big budget problem in Missouri. Not true. The problem, plain and simple, is shortages in revenue.
Missouri’s public service workers are being unfairly blamed for state and local budget shortfalls. Yes, the state faces a major funding crunch. But as the legislature builds its budget for next year, lawmakers should acknowledge the sacrifices already made by state workers rather than scapegoating them or making cuts in public services that families depend upon.
Missouri state workers are not a privileged class. They are the lowest-paid of any in the country. The median pay for state employees providing direct care services in Missouri is about $22,700 annually. That’s $22,000 a year for citizens who give treatment and dignity to those with severe disabilities at the Nevada Habilitation Center.
The same is true of retirement benefits. After a career of service providing round-the-clock care to former service members, a nurse’s aide at Mount Vernon Veterans home gets an annual pension of about $11,680. You’ve heard of a golden parachute? State worker pensions in Missouri are more like a pair of cardboard wings.
State workers have sacrificed along with private-sector workers during the current economic downturn. Missouri state employees have received no cos-of-living adjustment in three of the past four budget years and none at all over the last two years.
State workers do not have overly generous retirement benefits. Based on the governor’s budget recommendations for the 2012 fiscal year, state employee pension expenses amount to only 1.1 percent of all non-capital spending. And last year, state worker organizations agreed to a new pension tier that requires new workers to pay 4 percent of their salary toward the cost of their own pension.
In addition to bearing significant financial hardship because of Missouri’s budget difficulty, state workers have seen their ranks thinned. More than 2,400 positions have been eliminated over the past two budget years, and that number will surpass 3,300 if the legislature approves Gov. Nixon’s new proposal for even more layoffs.
There’s no question that Missouri’s budget presents a difficult challenge for Gov. Nixon, the legislature and residents who rely on services such as roads, schools and mental health care. Missouri state workers have committed themselves to service of the highest quality even while receiving pay and benefits at the most minimal levels. Missouri’s state workers work hard to provide vital public services at a time when families throughout the state need those services the most. Gov. Nixon and lawmakers should fight alongside those workers to find budget solutions that do no further harm to Missouri’s public health and safety.
Gerald W. McEntee is International President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.