State leaders have tough decisions ahead

Saturday, January 14, 2017

By any definition, the upcoming week will witness a change in the federal government perhaps unlike any in our lifetimes.

Any change in administrations brings upheaval with new approaches that threaten the status quo.

But on Nov. 8, the American public strongly called for a change. And when you morph from the most liberal administration in American history to one of perhaps the most conservative, the chaos and bitter feelings should be expected.

But let's put some focus on our home state of Missouri and the massive changes here that seem inevitable.

I'm struck by a couple of issues right off the bat.

That 800-pound gorilla in the room is obviously the right-to-work movement that appears likely to gain approval in short order in Jefferson City.

Missouri is poised to join 28 other states in approving legislation that will end mandatory union dues. Labor advocates believe the measure will lower wages here and reduce safety restrictions - among other issues - they find worrisome.

But proponents of right-to-work say the measure will help Missouri compete with other right-to-work states that are attracting new industry at our expense.

Regardless of the arguments, it is more than likely that the measure will gain approval though opponents have promised to seek repeal of the measure next year.

But other issues beyond right-to-work are worth perusal as well.

Despite cuts by outgoing Gov. Jay Nixon, the Missouri Legislature still needs to make an estimated $500 million in budget cuts to balance the budget as mandated in our state constitution.

Yet into this budget-cutting discussion comes state employees who correctly point out that state workers in Missouri rank dead last on pay in the nation.

Before you bemoan the plight of state employees, know that the average state employee salary is $39,682.

Missouri has just over 50,000 state employees. To bring those workers up to national average salary ranges would require an additional $14 million annually - money that the state, quite frankly, does not have.

And on a somewhat interesting side note, I read where the largest state agency is the Department of Corrections with nearly 11,000 employees.

Here's a way to balance the budget and allow salary increases for state employees: Reduce the state workforce.

Does it honestly require 50,000 employees to do the people's business in Missouri?

I'm sure there are those in Jefferson City who can certainly make that argument. And given all the facts, perhaps they are right.

But the limited business experience I have gained over the past 40 plus years leads me to believe that you can often do more with less if the pay is right, the working conditions are right and the leadership knows how to partner with state employees to get the most bang for the buck.

Missouri is by far not alone in this budget crunch. And like other states, tough decisions must be made in short order to return fiscal sanity.

But perhaps, legislators might consider addressing the size of the workforce before they consider reducing programs and services.

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