The state of Kansas can have all the buildings and programs its budget can accommodate, but if it doesn't have good people to run those buildings and programs, it won't mean a whole lot.
Some Kansas legislators seem to be ignoring that fact as they consider salary issues for state employees, including university workers. Under the leadership of Sen. Gus Bogina, R-Shawnee, the Senate Ways and Means Committee has decided to strip pay increases for state employees from all the spending bills it considers. That includes the so-called "step increases" that employees earn on the basis of their job classification and years of employment. Committee members say they prefer to leave the entire salary issue until the end of the session when other state funding matters will be in sharper focus.
Although some senators fought the committee decision on the floor of the Senate Tuesday, they lost the battle, at least for now. The negative vote indicates that senators are content to follow what seems to be an evolving policy in the Legislature of leaving the most important state issues until the waning seconds of the legislative session.
How can the Legislature approve a budget for the Kansas Board of Regents universities or any other major state entity without considering salary increases? Not only are salaries a major portion of the state's budget, they also are tied to the state's ability to retain high-quality employees. And that is a make-or-break issue when it comes to whether the state will continue to thrive or begin to decline.
For instance, salaries may be the most vital part of Kansas University's budget request. University officials are concerned about maintaining the quality of its faculty if financial rewards aren't forthcoming. It makes little difference how much the Legislature appropriates for operating expenses or libraries or building maintenance, if salaries and therefore the quality of KU faculty and staff are allowed to lose more ground to other universities.
This is a difficult year in the Legislature, and lawmakers are having to deal with many major financial issues, such as school finance, but that doesn't justify a decision to deliberately put state employee salaries at the bottom of their priority list.
State employees deserve better than leftovers.