TOPEKA Kansas legislators are considering proposals to give state workers modest salary increases but end their guaranteed longevity bonuses, and a union official said Tuesday that the combination could lower the pay of many employees.
The Republican-dominated Senate and House budget committees have drafted alternatives to GOP Gov. Sam Brownback's plan to give the state civil service employees a 1.5 percent salary increase, the first boost since 2009.
Both committee plans would repeal a requirement for longevity bonuses for state workers with 10 or more years of experience, allowing agencies to forgo the payments. Such workers receive an additional $40 for each year they've worked, up to $1,000 a year.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee touched on employees' pay Tuesday as it reviewed budget issues still facing lawmakers, without taking action. The Legislature ends its annual spring break April 30, returning to the Statehouse to wrap up its business for the year.
Rebecca Proctor, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said workers see their guaranteed longevity bonuses as "the only thing we can rely on" when lawmakers haven't approved across-the-board raises.
"A lot of the employees really count on this money," she said.
The state has almost 13,700 permanent civil service employees outside its university system and another 3,700 employees outside the civil service system, according to the Department of Administration.
The budget committees drafted the proposals to end guaranteed longevity bonuses as lawmakers worked earlier this month to meet a Kansas Supreme Court mandate in an education funding lawsuit to boost aid to poor school districts. If agencies stopped making the payments to employees, the state would save about $8 million a year.
"We were scrambling for dollars," said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican.
But state officials and university economists last week issued new, more optimistic revenue projections, making legislators more receptive to pay raises for state workers.
"It's still in play," said Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican who serves on the Ways and Means Committee. "They haven't had anything for so many years that I would be supportive of giving them something."
The House Appropriations Committee's plan would boost the pay of civil service workers earning $35,000 or less a year by 3 percent and provide smaller raises for others, with the highest-paid employees receiving a 0.5 percent raise.
The Senate committee's proposal would increase full-time state workers' pay by $300 annually through an extra once-a-year check. Part-time workers, including lawmakers, would receive an additional $150 a year.
Masterson said the aim is to give the lowest-paid workers the largest percentage pay raises.
But Proctor noted that if state agencies stop paying longevity bonuses, any employee with 10 or more years of experience would lose at least $400 a year — more than the pay raise promised by the Senate plan.
Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said even Brownback's proposal is "insignificant" because state workers haven't seen a raise in five years.
"That should be a priority of the state, to pay fair wages to folks who are doing the work," Kelly said.