1 year, 8 months ago by Johnny Kampis, Missouri Watchdog
Members of the $100k club make double what the average Missouri family does
ST. LOUIS – Gov. Jay Nixon has touted his efforts to cut the size of Missouri government during his tenure, but a close examination of state salaries shows there’s still plenty of fat to trim from the top.
At least 574 employees on the Missouri payroll made $100,000 or more in 2012, a 5 percent increase from 2011, Watchdog found in crunching the state payroll information available on the Missouri Accountability Portal. 
The number of members in the $100K club in the Show Me State – funded by you, the taxpayer – is actually significantly higher because the portal numbers don’t include earnings for employees at state colleges and universities who are paid directly by their educational institution. It also doesn’t include the pay for most workers at local school districts, where superintendents routinely make in the six figures.
Those totals also don’t include a handful of state employees who show up in the records twice because of job changes – for example, Angela Quigless, who was promoted from circuit judge to appeals court judge in 2012 by Nixon and earned more than $128,000 between the two jobs.
Members of the $100K club pull in more than double that made by the average Missouri household, where the median income is $47,202  – and remember, those are individual incomes compared to total family incomes.
While life is nice at the top, the median state pay was about $27,100 in 2012, down slightly from almost $27,900 in 2009. That falls in line with income for the average Missourian, $25,371 in 2011 . (The census figure is per capita, including children.)
State Budget Solutions  Editor Shannon Younger said Missouri’s salaries are in line with other states, but that they all could practice better fiscal management.
Younger would like to see states implement zero-based budgeting where each item in the budget is closely examined for waste each year, but Younger doesn’t expect that change to take place anytime soon.
“When you get bloated salaries that makes it hard to do,” she said. “States are not looking to trim where they can.”
Doctors and Lawyers
The highest paid employee whose paycheck comes directly from the state of Missouri was Dr. Sekhar Vangala, a staff physician specialist with the Department of Mental Health, who made $347,124 in 2012. 
The state numbers include gross pay but do not account for other benefits, so the total pay package for each employee is actually higher.
Perhaps it’s telling how bloated some state salaries are by the fact that Nixon, who made $133,821 last year, only ranked 55th.
Nixon and his press secretary, Scott Holste, were traveling Friday and could not be reached for comment.
Like in the private sector, it’s those in the medical and judicial fields who earn the most in Missouri state government.
At least 401 members of the $100K club work in the judiciary, while mental health comes in second with 54 employees earning at least that much. Most of the largest salaries on the state payroll are for those in the medical field.
The totals include more than 130 circuit judges who each made $123,479 and more than 200 employees who each received $112,800 – associate circuit judges, deputy probate commissioners, drug court commissioners and family court commissioners.
Most state department directors each get $120,000 annually, but some earned more. Department of Transportation Director Kevin Keith, for example, received paychecks for $166,108.
Despite these big salaries, the overall state payroll has gone down more than 6 percent in the past four years as Nixon has trimmed the employee count.
Information provided by Budget Director Linda Luebbering shows that the number of budgeted full-time employees on the state rolls declined from 59,873 in fiscal year 2009 to 55,560 in fiscal year 2013, a 7.2 percent drop.
Nixon said in his State of the State address last month that his administration has cut waste and has been “doing more with less.”
“Throughout state government, we’ve applied business principles to make the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” he said. “And as a result, the state workforce is now the smallest it has been in 19 years.”
That state workforce still costs Missouri plenty, a total of $1.985 billion in 2012 and about a quarter of its operating budget. Those $100K earners were paid more than $70 million last year.
Nixon announced plans last month to cut 190 positions next fiscal year while also proposing a 2 percent raise for state workers to go into effect Jan. 1, 2014. The Missouri General Assembly has not yet approved that plan.
Younger isn’t impressed, because most of those reductions will come from low-income earners. For example, fewer employees will be needed in the Department of Social Services to handle Medicaid paperwork because of a new computer system.
“Cutting a lot of lower wage jobs is not going to make a dent,” Younger said.
Show Me Institute policy researcher Michael Rathbone said instead of giving state employees cost-of-living adjustments next year, Nixon should focus his efforts on shoring up their pensions.
Last year, the Missouri State Employee Retirement System governing board approved a 20 percent increase for the pension program,  which means taxpayers will shell out $55 million more for the retirement benefits of 51,000 state workers and 37,000 retirees this year.
But even that won’t be enough to cover a shortfall that’s more than $300 million and likely to climb.
“I think the state would be better served if it made the retirement system secure rather than give raises,” Rathbone said.
He believes there are plenty of other areas in the state budget that could be trimmed, such as the Missouri Wine and Grape Board  that promotes the state’s vineyards, or the various occupational licensing boards, like the Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners  that has among its duties keeping tabs on African hair braiders.
“There are plenty of other areas the governor could get rid of,” Rathbone said.