Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback says a key goal of his administration is creating jobs.
But state government cannot even fill the vacancies it has.
A recent report to the Legislature cites low pay as a major factor in the inability of several agencies, specifically state mental health hospitals, in filling needed positions, such as physicians, psychiatrists, nurses and mental health technicians.
This has led to severe under-staffing levels and the possibility that Larned State Hospital, which houses the state sexual predator treatment program. could lose its accreditation and nearly $14.5 million annually in federal funding. At Larned, mental health technicians are mandated to work an extra 12 hours to 24 hours per week, the state report said.
Osawatomie State Hospital and Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City, Kan. have also reported severe staffing shortages caused by low pay and Brownback's voluntary retirement incentive program offered last year to state employees.
On top of that, last week the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee rejected efforts to fund an under-market pay adjustment for the lowest paid state workers. Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said state employees complaining about pay should get jobs in the private sector.
Michelle Walters, president of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said state workers are committed to their jobs and need to be fairly compensated.
"Not only are state workers dedicated to working to keep Kansans and their communities safe, but they are doing it to the point of mental and physical exhaustion,” Walters said.
The full Legislature returns Wednesday for the wrap-up session with a host of unresolved issues, including the state budget.
"We have state facilities severely understaffed with employees very frequently being mandated to work up to 16 hour shifts," Walters said. The state report said overtime wages at Larned increased 723 percent between February 2011 and last February.
In 2008, the Legislature approved a five-year plan to increase pay for certain groups of state employees who were paid far below their private sector counterparts. Legislators funded the first three years of the plan but failed to provide funding in the past two years as state government experienced historic revenue shortfalls during the recession.
But now the state has projected a surplus of $673.7 million for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Senate budget negotiators have approved transferring $8.5 million in general state revenue to boost the pay for those working in the under-market jobs. But Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee rejected a similar proposal.
Walters said inadequate pay has a long term expense.
“With such conditions and low pay, it is not surprising turnover rates are high, convicted felons are escaping, and Larned State Hospital’s accreditation is at risk,” she said. “State workers are not looking for anything more than simple fairness,” Walters said. “Yet our legislators can't muster a dime of respect for state workers.”