By John Celock
Legislation introduced Wednesday in Kansas could give state lawmakers a new incentive to finish in 90 days, they’d lose their pay.
The House Appropriations Committee formally introduced legislation that would cut off state legislative pay after the constitutional 90-day session and per diems for expenses including housing and meals would be cut off after 95 days. Rep. John Barker (R-Abilene) proposed the bill to the committee. Kansas lawmakers went over the 90-day deadline in 2013 after a tax debate pushed the session to 99 days.
“I thought it was appropriate. We are here for 90 days and there is some talk that we can stay longer,” Barker told The Celock Report. “We are halfway through and I want people to focus. If we get the budget done we can leave the next day. I wanted help our body focus.”
Kansas lawmakers are paid $88.66 a day for every day the Legislature is in session and are given a $100 per diem to cover lodging and expenses while in Topeka. Many lawmakers not within commuting distance to the Capitol commonly live in hotels and share houses or in rented apartments during the legislative session.
The proposal has generated opposition from lawmakers who said that it would only allow the wealthy to run for office and would force lawmakers to work without pay.
“I think that bill is ridiculous. You can’t force people to work and not pay them,” Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) said. “The idea that people delay the session to earn $88 a day is wrong. We have significant challenges in the budget, tax policy, education and it takes time. It is fundamentally un-American to force people to work without pay. To be a state legislator you have to have a per diem because you are not working at home.”
Similar legislation has been offered in past years but has not passed.
Rep. Amanda Grosserode (R-Lenexa) told The Celock Report that the bill could limit who decides to run for the Legislature. She noted that lawmakers would still need to pay for their lodging and other expenses no matter how long the session lasts and would be forced to pay out of pocket.
Grosserode also noted that legislative leadership makes the decision on how long the session lasts not rank and file legislators.
“There are many legislators, including myself, who are very much part of the middle class and do not have the financial capabilities to pay for these expenses without compensation. Do we as a state only want to have the wealthy serve?” Grosserode said. “Or do we wish to draw from a cross section of our populace? If the answer is to draw from a cross section, then compensation for days served must follow. In addition, all legislators will have the opportunity to withhold their salary if they so choose.”
During the 2013 extended session, Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) decided to donate his extra nine days of pay to TOPs Learning Center in Wichita. Whipple made the decision after asking for suggestions from constituents on which charity he should donate the extra salary to.
Ward also noted concern with how the proposal could impact who would run for the Legislature. He said that the state has a “high proportion” of legislators who are retired and that the mean income of state lawmakers is higher than average Kansas residents.
“I believe it would deny more middle class legislators,” he said. ”They don’t have a trust fund to use.”
Arizona is the only state that changes the per diem of state lawmakers based on the length of the session, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arizona lawmakers receive $35 a day for the first 120 days of the annual session and $10 a day after. In addition lawmakers from outside of Maricopa County – where Phoenix is located – receive an additional $25 a day for the first 120 days and $10 a day after.
In Illinois lawmakers are required to forfeit one day a month’s pay of their $67,836 a year salary. NCSL reports that Nevada lawmakers are paid $146.29 a day for a maximum of 60 days.
According to an NCSL chart, most states provide a per diem to lawmakers in addition to a salary of some kind. Only Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Ohio do not provide a per diem to lawmakers. Connecticut pays lawmakers $28,000 a year, New Hampshire $100 a year, New Jersey $49,000 a year and Ohio $60,583.70 a year.
In New York, state lawmakers have been unsuccessfully pushing for a raise of their $79,500 a year annual base salaries for the last several years. New York lawmakers can also earn bonuses – known as lulus – for chamber and committee leadership posts. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has suggested tying a legislative pay hike to limits on outside income from legislators – who officially hold part time legislative jobs under state law. New York lawmakers also earn $172 per diems for full days in Albany and $81 per diems for half days in Albany.
New Mexico does not pay a salary to state legislators but does provide a $159 a day per diem.
Concerns were also raised by lawmakers that the Kansas proposal could lead to hastily made laws in order to end the session before pay is withheld.
“I do appreciate the fiscal savings. However, I am more concerned by those that might hastily pass legislation simply because they are not getting paid,” Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee) told The Celock Report. “It’s quite possible that we would end up with sloppy legislation as an unintended consequence.”
Barker said that he has heard support from other lawmakers since introducing the bill. He did note that the bill is just a proposal and it would have to work its way through the legislative process before becoming law. In terms of the objections, he noted that changes could be made, including keeping the per diems in place.
“It can be amended at any stop along the way. Just because I proposed it, is a far far away from becoming law,” Barker said. “There are many members who are very supportive of the bill. It may be that we’ll continue to pay the per diem after they stop paying the salary.”
Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) is one lawmaker in support of the bill. He noted that the state’s 165 legislators make up a “citizen legislature” and there would likely be no change in who runs based on the pay. He said that the bill would address the constitutionally mandated 90-day annual session.
“We need to complete the people’s business in a 90 day session,” Claeys told The Celock Report. “This bill is a not so gentle reminder of that.”