Topeka Concerned that only the rich and retired can afford to serve in the Kansas Legislature, lawmakers are considering how they can raise their pay without getting scorched politically.
On Wednesday, the Legislative Budget Committee said it would look at a proposal by Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, that would establish a commission to set legislative pay. The commission's recommendations would take effect unless the Legislature rejected them.
State Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, and chairwoman of the House-Senate Legislative Budget Committee, said legislative pay needed to be increased so that younger people could serve.
"We can't just have all retired people or well-to-do people serve in the Legislature," Schwartz said.
State Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, also a member of the budget committee, urged caution and more study of how other states arrived at their pay levels for legislators.
"Whatever we do needs to be a rational approach rather than just pull a number out of the air," he said.
Kansas legislators make approximately $8,823 per year. They also receive approximately $17,008 per year in expenses.
The salary of Kansas lawmakers ranks 43rd nationally in legislative compensation, according to information collected by the Kansas Legislative Research Department. And when adjusted for inflation, Kansas lawmakers are now making 45 percent less than they did in 1975.
But there is a wide variance in how legislators from different states are paid and how much work they do.
Nine states have what are considered professional legislatures where lawmakers typically spend the majority of their time on legislative business and have no outside employment. Eighteen states, including Kansas, are considered to have citizen legislatures, and 23 states have a mixture of the two.
State Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said lawmakers should also compare other forms of compensation among different states.
For instance, Kansas lawmakers may participate in the state retirement and group health insurance programs.
The budget committee said it would consider Morris' bill and make a recommendation to the full Legislature, which meets in January.
During the last legislative session, state Rep. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, proposed tying legislative pay to federal poverty guidelines based on family size.
Masterson quickly retreated from the proposal after a public backlash, saying he was only trying to make the point that because legislative pay was so low, working-class men and women can seldom run for office.
On Wednesday, Schwartz agreed, saying without more working people in the Legislature, public policy is skewed.