By John Celock
Kansas lawmakers have defeated a proposal to give almost all state employees an across the board two percent pay hike.
The state House Appropriations Committee defeated a proposal from Rep. John Alcala (D-Wichita) to transfer over $50 million for the next fiscal year for two percent pay hikes for all state employees except for law enforcement, state legislators and state judicial staffers. Alcala and supporters of the proposal said the proposal would address 10 years without a raise for those employees, while opponents of the amendment said the state could not afford an across the board pay hike currently.
“I know when morale is down, productivity is down,” Alcala said, noting that morale has been sinking amongst state workers.
Alcala exempted law enforcement, the judiciary and lawmakers from his pay hike plan, due to pay hikes that have been delivered to those employees in recent budgets. Since 2015, lawmakers have developed pay raise plans for the Kansas Highway Patrol, Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Department of Corrections, along with plans adopted this year for judicial staff pay increases and a pay hike for law enforcement in the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. State lawmakers received a raise in their per diem allowances, which are dictated by federal guidelines.
Alcala said that in addition to morale issues, he believes that state employees cannot find employment in the private sector due to skill sets that match state employment and not the private sector.
Alcala was joined by fellow Democrats in pushing the pay hike plan. General Government Budget Committee Ranking Minority Member Tom Burroughs (D-Kansas City) said that state employees were asking for a raise and that residents of the state wanted state employees to make more.
“I find it a little disappointing that the needs of the people of Kansas, including the unemployed and state employees, are being disregarded,” Burroughs said.
Those opposed to Alcala’s amendment said that while they understood the problem of not giving raises for a decade but said that the state’s current budget deficit and lack of a new tax plan to increase revenue make it harder to adopt an across the board pay hike currently.
“We are not in a positive balance,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Troy Waymaster (R-Russell) said. “We are looking at $248 million under balance in FY18.”
Waymaster noted though that he understood to recruit and retain staff the state needs to address the pay issue, but said that time would come at a later date.
Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Chairman J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), who developed the law enforcement pay hikes, said that the six budget committees and their chairs should be taking the lead in developing pay hike plans, noting the work he’s done with his committee since 2015. He said that the committees could identify recruitment and retention issues in their agencies and then find the funds to pay for raises. Claeys, who said that the 10 years without a raise needed to be addressed long term, said this would allow the most pressing recruitment and retention needs to be addressed first.
“Each time we have done so, we have addressed issues that needed to be addressed,” he said.
Claeys noted that the law enforcement pay hikes helped recruit more state troopers and is addressing recruitment and recruitment and retention issues in the Corrections Department. He also said that a developing recruitment and retention issues amongst employees in the Department of Transportation needed to be addressed.
General Government Budget Committee Chairman Bill Sutton (R-Gardiner) noted that he wanted to address the shortfall in paying the state’s contribution to the state employee retirement plan before addressing a pay raise.
“We can’t afford to pay retirement and we’re saying here have a two percent raise instead,” Sutton said. “It is disrespectful to the people we say we’re helping. I want to find a way to fund KPERS.”
Earlier this month the Appropriations Committee adopted a plan to fully fund KPERS, a move that increased the budget deficit. On Monday, lawmakers rolled back that plan and delayed further discussion until after a new tax plan is adopted.
Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Ranking Minority Member Henry Helgerson (D-Eastborough) said that while Alcala’s amendment was tough to fund, the state needed to address the pay raise policy.
“The amendment being proposed is difficult to fund but it is extremely important that this body establish a policy on how we pay people,” Helgerson said. “We need good experienced people doing the work we expect.”