Topeka Kansas legislators advanced a proposal Monday to give most state employees a 2 percent pay raise, even as lawmakers wrestle with serious budget problems likely to prompt a big tax increase.
The state Senate Ways and Means Committee voted to include the pay increase in its proposed state budget for the fiscal year beginning in July and the spending blueprint for the fiscal year that begins in July 2018. The cost would be about $20 million each year.
The proposed raises had bipartisan support. Most government employees haven't seen a pay increase since 2008, a legacy of budget problems arising after the Great Recession and after GOP legislators slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013.
"We can do better with our employees," said Sen. John Skubal, an Overland Park Republican.
The Senate committee and its House counterpart hoped to finish work this week on proposed budgets for each of the next two fiscal years.
The state is facing projected budget shortfalls totaling more than $1 billion through June 2019. There is bipartisan support for rolling back past income tax cuts championed by GOP Gov. Sam Brownback, but lawmakers are considering other tax proposals too.
Brownback did not propose pay raises for most state workers, though he has backed increases in recent years for prison officers, state mental hospital workers and Kansas Highway Patrol troopers. The Senate committee excluded the patrol from its pay raises because lawmakers last year boosted vehicle registration fees to increase trooper salaries.
"They are spending money we don't have," said Shawn Sullivan, the governor's budget director.
The Senate committee's pay raises also would go to faculty and other employees at state universities and to state elected officials, including legislators.
Meanwhile, the Kansas Supreme Court wants to increase the salaries of judges and pay for other court-system workers, some by as much as 22 percent. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss told lawmakers in his annual State of the Judiciary address last week that all judicial branch jobs pay below market rates.
The Senate committee swapped its proposal for broader pay raises for the Kansas Supreme Court's plan. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said he still hopes lawmakers can do "something extra" for the court system's workers.
But such initiatives depend upon higher taxes.
Legislators last month approved a bill increasing income taxes to raise more than $1 billion over two years, but Brownback vetoed it. The governor has proposed raising cigarette and liquor taxes and annual business filing fees.
Meanwhile, if the state boosts income taxes, some GOP conservatives want to move to a single personal income tax rate from the two tax brackets it now has.
The House Taxation Committee also was having hearings later this week on bills that would increase motor fuels taxes and impose the sales tax on some services, including barbering, beauty services and pet grooming.