Potential Spam

Valley Voice

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The Kansas Legislature is on the way to a fat pay increase, courtesy of a special compensation committee created earlier this year by the legislature.

The special committee was created to put distance ‒ at least a smidgen ‒ between legislators and a decision to raise their own pay. Eight of the nine committee members are former legislators.

The committee, after a quick summer study, recommends that legislators’ base compensation be increased from $29,000 to nearly $58,000. The pay plan takes effect in 2025 unless legislators pass a resolution to reject it.

Legislative pay is multi-tiered. Members of the House and Senate are currently paid $88.66 per day plus $157 daily for living expenses during a 90-day session ‒ roughly $22,000. From April through December they receive $354 every two weeks to pay for “constituent services.” (They also get a 56-cents per mile travel allowance.) Base total plus a $7,000 non-session allowance, $29,000.

Committee chairmen and leadership – majority and minority leaders, party whips, Speaker pro-tem and Senate vice-president, the House Speaker and Senate President – are paid more, depending on rank.

Under the new plan, rank-and-file legislators would be paid $43,000 in salary plus a 90-day in-session living expense of $14,940.

Pay for the House speaker and Senate president would increase from the current $36,000 to $70,520, plus $14,490 in-session per-diem. In both chambers, majority and minority leaders would be paid $67,940. Other leadership positions, such as speaker pro tem and assistant party leaders would be paid $57,190 under the proposal.

Other benefits include added compensation for interim committee meetings and other business outside the regular 90-day session.

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The pay increase comes on grounds that our part-time citizen legislature is a myth. Legislating today enjoins more than a 90-day session, given interim committees, political events, speaking engagements, citizen forums, campaign meetings, constituent services, lobbyists’ invitations.

Even decades ago when state politics was local, accomplished legislators sometimes found their public duties had come to impair their private employment or harmed a business they managed. Public responsibilities could squeeze lives and jobs.

The legislature grew older, wealthier, a repository for the retired and well-off, a place for those who had the time and the money to serve.

Mark Hutton, chairman of the compensation committee, said the pay plan was an attempt to fix that. If the pay is good enough, he said, younger people may be interested in serving.

The idea, he said, ” is to develop a compensation package that would not incentivize but support people … that want to serve in the Legislature and not punish them financially for doing it.”

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Money or no money, the larger issue is detachment. Topeka has become a bent geezer in serious need of an ear trumpet. The disconnect from the rest of Kansas is startling. Calls about true local issues of state impact are placed again and again ‒ in polls and surveys, in public referendums, in general elections. What they get is a busy signal; or, dialed up and scrolled, local sentiment appears on the legislative screen as “Potential Spam”.

Meanwhile the legislature lumbers on. Brownback alumni lecture cities and counties about sound budgeting while hoarding the billions owed cities and counties in local tax relief. Their answer to a long cry for Medicaid expansion is another abortion bill while more rural hospitals go broke and close, Herington the latest.

The need for local tax relief is answered with jingoes about trimming fat. Local schools need adequate and equitable financing, not ginned-up bickering about rainbows in the library.

Local issues go unattended while legislators worry about their pay. Which is spam, which the scam?

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