Topeka Democratic leaders in the Legislature on Friday criticized a House Republican plan that could cut state workers' pay by 7.5 percent, saying the proposal is indicative of several GOP initiatives that would hurt low- and middle-income Kansans.
"There is a strong desire among the extreme right wing of the Republican Party to get their pound of flesh from university and state employees," said House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence.
Earlier this week, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee pushed through a budget proposal that would cut state wages and salaries by 7.5 percent.
In order to avoid a federal penalty, the proposed cuts for university employee wages would be funneled back into maintenance and repairs of campus buildings.
The author of the proposal, state Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, said the pay cuts were needed to bridge an estimated $550 million revenue shortfall in the next fiscal year.
"Certainly this is painful, but we've got people in Wichita, my constituents, some of which have lost their jobs and been out of work now for over two years, some companies have lost 50 to 60 percent of their personnel," he said.
But Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said he was appalled at the disdain some Republican legislators have for state employees.
"We should support those who work for us. They are hard-working, dedicated people. The last thing we should do is try to balance the budget on their backs," he said.
The two Democrats also pointed to other legislation proposed by Republicans that would delay unemployment benefits and give corporations more tax breaks.
The debate over state employee pay may erupt next week when the full House considers the budget plan.
House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said there is confusion over the proposal.
He said state agencies would be given flexibility on how to cut 7.5 percent in salary expenditures, which means they could leave some positions unfilled or enact furloughs. He said not all state workers would see a 7.5 percent cut.
"My sense is to let the agencies have as much control over how they would absorb an X-percent cut," he said. But O'Neal said that state elected officials and agency chiefs should take the 7.5 percent cut.
"The top tier ought to have skin in the game and that includes guys like me," he said.