State payroll: Commission tries to pin down solid facts, figures

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Some in Missouri state government like to say that Missouri employees are underpaid, citing a 2003 census study which ranks Missouri 46th in state ranking of average pay per employee.

However, the ranking is somewhat questionable. Fringe benefits are not included in the comparison, and Missouri's benefits (based on recent testimony to the Missouri State Government Review Commission, on which I serve) are about 46 percent of total compensation.

(Note: The more independently run department of conservation, which has a separate health plan, reported benefits amount to 36 percent of total compensation.)

The fringes include generous contributions by the state for health care, prescription drugs and retirement.

As of June 2004, the Missouri State Employees Retirement System, known to participants as MOSERS, was one of the 200 largest defined-benefit plans in the United States with total assets of just under $6 billion dollars.

For comparison, few companies in the United States have defined-benefit plans, and the average fringe-benefit packages would run about 27 percent, with some as high as 35 percent.

The total fringe-package expense to the state for this fiscal year is listed in the budget book as $778.5 million, but if the highway department and other fringe costs cited elsewhere are added, the total cost is about $927.5 million ($77.3 million per month).

This does not include the fringe costs of higher education, which has its own plan.

Disclaimer: Although I'm trying to be accurate, it is hard to come up with comfortable (to me) numbers, which is why the state information technology consolidation being implemented by Gov. Matt Blunt, by executive order, is so important.

In business we know, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it." Also, it's hard to solve a problem if you don't know what it is.

Example: The previously mentioned census study of state employees listed Missouri as having 61,000 employees (not counting teachers in both K-12 and higher education).

However, during testimony the review commission, we were given the figure of an estimated 62,000 employees. While checking, I was told there were 57,000 checks issued in March to state employees.

I'm inclined to think that if Missouri's employee expenses, including fringe-benefit costs, were compared to other states, we would rank much higher than 46th in average employee payroll.

Also, we might have too many employees dividing the payroll dollars when fewer would dramatically increase the average pay.

Solution: To help the many outstanding state employees who have approached me and others to express their frustration with state waste and duplication, they need to feel comfortable and rewarded by helping to make the delivering of services more efficient. Yes, there is waste and fat in state government.

And those many advocacy groups who run to the news media and their constituencies to complain about the shortage of funding also need to help by giving suggestions of money-saving opportunities.

I hope the above-mentioned numbers will be scrutinized. I stand ready to correct them if necessary. I am more interested in having the most accurate data available before trying to make recommendations.

Other personnel notes I've taken:

1. There are 906,911 Missouri students in kindergarten through 12th grade (I believe this is public schools only).

2. There are 67,097 teachers and 524 school districts.

Some higher education numbers include:

1. $919 million is the total salary for full-time faculty and full-time university employees (not including those at the many private educational institutions).

2. Fringe benefits are $212 million for a total payroll of $1.13 billion.

3. This is paid to 15,000 full-time faculty and staff.

4. No information was provided for part-time employees, student employees or adjunct faculty.

Disclaimer: Again, I reference that I am uncomfortable with the accuracy of the data I'm providing and stand ready to make any adjustments or corrections if forwarded to me.

I do feel comfortable with the following data provided by the Council on Public Higher Education, which consists of Missouri's 13 public, four-year colleges and universities, including the four campuses of the University of Missouri system.

Enrollment ranges from 1,600 at Harris-Stowe State College to a head count of 27,000 students at the Columbia campus of the University of Missouri.

In total, 129,000 students are enrolled at COPHE-member colleges and universities, representing 40 percent of total state enrollment.

A public hearing of the Missouri State Government Review Commission was held in St. Louis last Friday.

Future public-input hearings are scheduled during the next four weeks in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, Cape Girardeau and Kirksville.

Our committee is expected to make our recommendation to the governor in November or December.

It's a solid, experienced committee. Though the meetings are time-consuming, I'm enjoying the information and opportunity to participate in this review.

I have been very pleased with the candor and quality of the state personnel who have appeared before our committee.

Many of the most meaningful changes can probably be done by executive order and departmental discipline and efficiencies of those currently serving in management positions.

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

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