Archive for Sunday, March 25, 2001

House, Senate mull creation of legislative pay commission

March 25, 2001

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— Senators haven't debated or voted upon the proposal, but their leaders have agreed to negotiate a bill to create a commission authorized to raise legislators' pay.

The House passed the measure Friday on a 64-58 vote. The new commission also would make recommendations on pay for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer and insurance commissioner.

To move the proposal more quickly, the House added it to a minor campaign finance bill approved by the Senate earlier this year.

The Senate hasn't taken up any pay proposals, and President Dave Kerr could have referred the bill back to committee after the House passed it. Instead, he said he will have a joint conference committee appointed to draft the final version.

Kerr, R-Hutchinson, said he didn't have a good sense of senators' thinking on the measure.

"I didn't think it would come out of the House, but it did, so we'll take it seriously," he said.

The House plan is an attempt to address some legislators' long-standing concerns that they are underpaid. They receive about $21,000 a year as base compensation, about two-thirds of which is supposed to cover expenses related to serving in the House or Senate.

Under the bill, a nine-member commission would be appointed by May 1 of this year and, by June 15, would fix salaries for legislators and recommend salaries for other elected state officials.

The legislative salaries would take effect July 1. The recommended pay for other officials would await a vote of the Legislature.

The commission's members would be appointed by legislative leaders, Gov. Bill Graves, Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall, Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, State Treasurer Tim Shallenburger and Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius.

The Legislature created a compensation commission in 1998, but its proposals on legislative pay must be approved by lawmakers, and they have failed to do so.

"I'm tired of starving to death up here," said Sen. Paul Feleciano, D-Wichita. "People confuse us with Washington and think we're making $150,000, and I barely break even up here."

Supporters believe an independent commission will be objective about what legislators should be paid. Others view creating the commission as tantamount to approving a pay increase for lawmakers.

"We don't need to raise the pay around here," said Sen. Ed Pugh, R-Wamego. "It'd be too much of an incentive to stay. People would make a career of it."

Kerr believes legislative pay is inadequate, but he noted that the state is facing a tight budget.

"I still question whether this would be the year in which to put something like that in place," he said.

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