Topeka A House-Senate oversight committee voted Wednesday to abandon efforts to secure millions of dollars for raises scheduled to be paid in December 2010 to thousands of state workers under a new compensation program.
Instead, the State Employee Pay Plan Oversight Committee chose to focus during the 2010 session on retaining $8.5 million earmarked to upgrade wages of the most acutely underpaid civil service employees in Kansas government.
Gov. Mark Parkinson included the $8.5 million in his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, but he made no provision for at least $3 million that was to accompany implementation of the new compensation program marrying extensive job performance reviews with a merit-pay structure. The program was designed to provide about 6,000 state workers with a 3 percent pay hike in December.
Democratic and Republican legislators on the committee agreed the state's budget deficit would make it challenging to hold on to the $8.5 million and would make securing the additional resources nearly impossible.
"If we get greedy, it may backfire," said Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka. "The world really has changed since we started this process."
Rep. Pat George, R-Dodge City, said a recommendation to the Legislature for full funding of the state salary plan would be dead on arrival.
"We know our challenges," he said. "I'm just being a pragmatist."
Surveys of government and private employers in Kansas and eight other states revealed discrepancies in wages. Overall, thousands of state employees in Kansas are underpaid in comparison to peers in those fields.
Kraig Knowlton, who works in personnel services in the Kansas Department of Administration, said the latest market survey offered new examples of occupations in which state government paid less than employers in Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Missouri, Arkansas, Wyoming and Kansas.
Examples of job classifications in Kansas government and peer salary comparisons in the new study: accountant II in Kansas receives 89 percent of $45,600 paid peers; architect II earns 71 percent of $63,900 paid peers; senior corrections industry manager earns 79 percent of $54,700 paid peers; extension nutrition assistant I makes 64 percent of $32,300 paid peers; and engineering technician takes in 73 percent of $42,000 paid peers.
Jane Carter, executive director of the Kansas Association of State Employees, said she couldn't support the decision to walk away from implementation of the 3 percent raises outlined by the new pay structure previously endorsed by the Legislature.
"We're going to be stopping a promise made to state employees," she said. "The moment you pause, you lose credibility."
The last across-the-board raise for state workers was adopted in 2008 and paid an average of 2.5 percent.
Knowlton said complete abandonment by lawmakers of strategies to make state employee salaries more competitive would be met with despair by workers.
"That could be a real bad situation," he said. "Without good funding this thing isn't going to work."
George said the moderate approach endorsed by the oversight committee recognized there was a balance to be sought between the state's need for fiscal austerity and each employee's need to make a living.
"I don't want to see this implode this year," George said.