Missouri lawmakers may be in line for pay raise despite rejection of governor’s proposal

Legislators took an 8.7% raise for themselves out of the budget, but the constitution’s rules on pay could require a smaller boost

By: - February 21, 2023 3:25 pm

Missouri State Capitol building in Jefferson City (Getty Images).

Lawmakers and statewide elected officials wouldn’t get a raise next month from a supplemental spending bill moving toward passage. But a provision of the state Constitution means legislators may see a pay boost on July 1.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill providing an 8.7% pay raise for all state employees, along with an increase in the night differential for direct care institutional employees to $2 an hour from the current 30 cents.

The committee made no changes to the bill as passed earlier this month in the Missouri House, which removed money earmarked for raises for statewide elected officials and lawmakers.

If no changes are made on the Senate floor, the bill would be the first legislation this session delivered to Gov. Mike Parson for his signature. Parson asked for the $627 million spending bill to be passed in time for the raises to be included in paychecks issued on the last day of March.

The Missouri Constitution allows, but does not require, cost-of-living adjustments for legislators and statewide officials that do not exceed the raise given generally to state employees. 

But the same section of the constitution mandates that salaries should otherwise be controlled by the most recent report from the Missouri Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials. And the controlling report, issued at the end of 2020, directs that lawmakers receive raises at “the same percentage increase as was received by Circuit Judges in their most recent yearly increase.”

There is no similar provision in the section on statewide officials, which means the governor, lieutenant governor, auditor, treasurer, secretary of state and attorney general are entirely at the mercy of lawmakers for a pay raise this year.

The salary schedule in the commission’s 2020 report took effect in 2021 when the deadline for lawmakers to reject it passed. As a result, legislative salaries went up 5%, from $35,915 per year in fiscal 2021 to $37,711 in the current year, the first raises for the General Assembly in 13 years.

Former state Rep. Chris Kelly, a Columbia Democrat who chaired the 2020 commission, said the provision tying raises to judicial pay boosts was designed to get around political reluctance to vote for pay raises.

“We wanted to deal with the problem into the future,” Kelly said. “Now they will continue to get some increase.”

Judges were not included in Parson’s proposal for an 8.7% raise because their salaries, since a 2010 commission report, have been tied to federal judicial salaries. 

Missouri Supreme Court judges receive 69% of the amount paid to members of the U.S. Supreme Court. Other judges are paid 73% of the salaries of federal judges who do similar work.

Federal judges received a pay raise of 4.1% for 2023, and that increase is reflected in the judiciary budget request. Last year, judges received a pay increase of 2.2%.

Eliminating the 8.7% pay raise for lawmakers saved $266,549 and taking it away from statewide officials saved an additional $24,781, not including the cost of benefits.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said he’s not sure what the constitutional requirements are for implementing the commission’s directive tying legislative pay to judicial salaries.

But he said he’s sure what the response politically will be to any attempt to increase legislative pay.

“I see very little chance that the legislature goes in and raises its own pay,” Hough said. “That is pretty much a non-starter in this world.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.