Future pensions will pinch states; Mo. state pay, fringes are generous

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Kiplinger's Newsletter predicts that state revenues (generally up this year) will have a shortfall next year and for a decade or more because of "huge pension obligations that will come due as thousands of government workers, take early retirement from long held jobs." By decade's end, state and local governments will be paying retirees $170 billion a year, a 44 percent increase over what they paid in 2004.

Missouri currently has 330,000 public employees (state and local) and pays over $77 million a month in pensions (and baby boomer retirees will escalate this amount).

Incidentally, 2004 preliminary figures rank Missouri 41st (not 50th as in 2003) in average pay per state employee. Again, I repeat, if the generous Missouri fringe payments (up to 46 percent of salary) were included, we would rank even higher.

A Missouri state job -- pay, fringe and pension -- is really a pretty good deal.

The problem is that dealing with the bureaucracy and the low pay of highly qualified (not the average) state employee is frustrating to many. A number of such employees so testified to the governor's State Government Reform Commission (in public or private).

I've started reading Burl Stamp's (formerly of Cape Girardeau and nationally recognized health-care consultant) book "The Healing Art of Communication."

It's a "health care professionals' guide to improving communication with parents, families, physicians, and one another." If everyone in the health-care industry reads this book (and they probably should), it will be most beneficial to those in health care and patients, let alone those family members dealing with better methods of communication about illnesses.

I'll venture a guess that Stamp's book will be well-received and he will become a regular speaker at health conventions.

Recently I attended a surprise party (and he was) in recognition of Lloyd Smith's 25th anniversary in the political arena in which he has become recognized as one of the top confidants and political campaign managers in the Midwest. A former Bootheel Democrat, Smith headed up the first campaign office of Bill Emerson (along with campaign manager Peter Kinder) and was and is a major reason for the shift of elected officials in Southeast Missouri from Democratic to Republican.

His management skills have kept the Emerson legacy alive and have seen Smith sought out to be Missouri campaign manager for George W. Bush's presidential campaign and Jim Talent's successful U.S. Senate race.

Smith not only believes in doing the right thing, but in doing it at the right time and place with no excuses accepted.

Many people don't realize how important the team is in getting politicians elected, especially in their first race.

Congratulations to Adam Hanna's re-election as president of Southeast Missouri State University's Student Government. Adam has been helpful not only with student governance, but also in helping to rally students in behalf of inclusion of SEMO in MOHELA funding for the River Campus.

We'll all have an opportunity to hear a free speech by former ambassador Alan Keyes at 7 p.m. tonight in Academic Hall. Keyes is a former presidential and Illinois senatorial candidate and is noted for the articulation of his conservative views.

Premiums for employer-based health insurance rose by 9.2 percent in 2005, the fifth consecutive year of increases over 9 percent. Since 2000, employment-based health insurance premiums have increased 73 percent, compared to cumulative inflation of 14 percent and cumulative wage growth of 15 percent during the same period.

The annual premium that a health insurer charges an employer for a health plan covering a family of four averaged $10,800 in 2005. Workers contributed $2,713, or 10 percent more than they did in 2004. The annual premiums for family coverage eclipsed the gross earnings for a full-time, minimum-wage worker ($10,712). -- National Coalition of Health Care

Congratulations to Harry Guth Jr. and his wife Barbara, who received the Mildred Wallhausen Friend of SEMO Press Association Award last Friday.

They have a long supportive history with their formerly owned Perryville community newspaper.

The program featured the executive director of the Louisiana Press Association, who discussed how some southern Louisiana newspapers dealt with the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. Truly a "go with the flow" situation as many newspapers were forced to vacate their publishing facilities but continued to print and distribute their local newspaper -- the main source of information.

A number of newspapers saw circulation increases as people realized the value of the local information they provided.

Friday's bullish report of 211,000 new jobs in March and a drop in the unemployment rate to 4.7 percent -- matching its lowest level in five years -- brings further evidence that the great American jobs machine rolls on. Since May of 2003, U.S. businesses have created 5.2 million new jobs. The highly publicized layoffs of 50,000 workers by Ford and General Motors over the next two years is the number of net new jobs the U.S. economy is producing every week in other industries.

In such high-growth regions as the Southeast and Mountain West, the problem is a shortage of willing and trained workers. Thank goodness for immigrant workers who are filling vital niches in the labor force. Critics continue to complain that President Bush's tax policies have only benefited the super-wealthy, but that would come as news to the five million Americans who were jobless before the 2003 tax cuts, and thus had no income, but now have a weekly paycheck.

Since at least February of 2004, wages have been rising at a slightly faster pace than core inflation, and the median wage has climbed to more than $600 a week for the first time ever. These pay hikes are a result of another hallmark of this expansion: rapid productivity growth, particularly in manufacturing. So workers are benefiting from a labor market trifecta: robust expansion in jobs, steady gains in productivity and gains in real take-home pay. -- The Wall Street Journal

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: