By John Celock
A plan to fund a pay hike for the Kansas Highway Patrol was approved Tuesday morning by a legislative committee.
The Kansas state House Appropriations Committee approved a KHP budget that moves around approximately $3 million in existing state funds for a salary structure. The plan, which was developed by the KHP and state House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Chairman J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), would address a shortage of troopers in Kansas. The state is down 100 troopers and faces another 50 who can likely retire. The salary scale has been addressed as one of the top issues causing the shortage.
“Leadership at the Highway Patrol found the resources to finance a pay and rank matrix that will address a trooper shortage in the state,” Claeys told The Celock Report Tuesday about the Appropriations Committee’s decision. “We can see the math in front of us with 51 troopers eligible to retire and only six graduating the academy in Salina while we stand about 100 troopers short of statewide coverage.”
The plan will be funded through moving around a series of existing state funds, including funds from asset forfeiture. The asset forfeiture plan would include a change in existing state law to allow it to fund an operating expernse. Claeys noted that federal law allows asset forfeiture funds to be used for operating expenses in a hardship case. The KHP pay plan was approved by the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee earlier this month and forwarded to the Appropriations Committee. It has also been heard by Senate public safety budget writers, who have shown support.
The current starting salary for Kansas state troopers is $20.53 an hour, with troopers receiving a raise to $23.78 an hour after five years. Troopers could plateau at that rate for the remainder of their careers.
Lt. Josh Kellerman, a KHP spokesman, told The Celock Report earlier this month that many troopers look to move to other police departments in the state for higher pay or retire early. He said this has helped lead to the trooper drop, which has been called a “severe trooper shortage.”
State Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee Chairman Greg Smith (R-Overland Park) told The Celock Report that 27 Kansas counties do not have a state trooper in them due to the shortage.
The trooper pay plan is one of two parts being looked at to address the shortage. The other is a new pension DROP pension plan, which would allow troopers to retire but continue to work for three to five additional years. The retirement pay during the DROP period would be placed in an interest bearing account and paid to the trooper upon retirement. The trooper would then start receiving regular pension plans.
The plan to use asset forfeiture funds for the plan received objections on Twitter Tuesday, with Dakota Loomis, the former communications director for the Kansas Democratic Party, questioning that aspect. Loomis noted that asset forfeiture could be misused by state officials, citing an article from the New Yorker about the policy in other states. He indicated that he would be interested in lawmakers finding other areas of the budget to find the money for the plan. He did not criticize the pay plan but rather the asset forfeiture funding mechanism.
“Asset forfeiture is unreliable and creates bad incentives for departments to seize individual’s personal property,” Loomis tweeted.
Others joined in with the Kansas Organization of State Employees tweeting that other state employees needed pay raises as well, including employees in the Departments of Corrections and Transportation, along with state hospital workers. Tom Witt, the executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, suggested repealing the 2012 tax cuts to fund pay hikes.
KOSE suggested a plan to fund the raises with a new tax policy.
“Fix the revenue stream with reasonable, responsible tax policy and fund the pay plans,” the union tweeted.
Claeys responded to the Twitter discussion, saying that unions need to work with lawmakers.
“Sitting on the sidelines tossing insults doesn’t get anyone a seat at the table,” Claeys told The Celock Report. “Unions do their members a disservice in failing to bring solutions into the conversation.”