Last week, the Republican-leaning Rasmussen Reports published a poll that indicated that 45 percent of Americans favor cutting state employees' pay by 10 percent.
The poll appears to be part of the post-Wisconsin strategy of Republicans to bash public-sector unions, and state employees in general, because, well, what are corrections officers and nurses and mental health workers and sanitation employees and park rangers other than a drain on taxpayers?
Republicans are so convinced that Wisconsin voters were signaling the OK to attack public employees that presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney might have become the first such candidate in the nation's history to suggest that the U.S. needs fewer teachers, firefighters and police officers.
What the Rasmussen pollsters didn't tell the 1,000 people it polled is this: In many states, including Missouri, state workers make less than average workers.
In Missouri, it's not even close. For about a decade now, Missouri has had the worst-paid state workers in the country. Yeah, those public employee unions are really socking it to the taxpayers.
On July 1, most state workers in Missouri will get a raise. In 2009, the average Missouri state worker made $40,776. Next year, most of them will get to add $740 a year to that number, their first raise since 2008. (Illinois state workers, by contrast, made $60,924 on average in 2009, ninth-highest in the country).
Even with the 2 percent raise, those Missourians cleaning the restrooms in the state parks this summer or checking on your disabled grandma at home or keeping the felon locked up still will be the lowest-paid state workers in the country — behind Mississippi, behind West Virginia, behind Arkansas, behind everybody.
These are the same state workers who already saw their pensions cut to free up money to help keep Ford Motor Co. in Missouri. These are the same state workers who make far less than the average Missouri teacher. And, oh, by the way, those teachers, on average, are paid worse than their counterparts in all but six other states.
There are states (such as Wisconsin) in which state employees — in part because of their strong union representation — make more than other employees. And that's not a bad thing (the economy can't grow if people don't have money to spend), but in Missouri it's only a dream.
The average Missouri worker makes $38,603, according to the most recently available U.S. Census Bureau data. That ranks the state 29th in the nation — perhaps not good enough, but fair.
Teachers here rank lower. State workers rank much lower.
Meanwhile, Missouri continues to rank as among the lowest-taxed states, particularly for taxes paid by businesses.
We steal from state workers to give welfare to corporations.
This is the Missouri budget model.
The depressing reality is that it is going to take much more than November's vote on an increased tobacco tax to make a dent in what is a systemic problem. Missouri's tax structure is fundamentally broken. Its state budget priorities are out of whack. Yet the party that runs the Capitol is intent on demeaning public-sector unions as part of a national political strategy, facts be damned.
Even with a raise, Missouri's state workers are at the bottom of the barrel.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact news editor Laura Johnston.