State employees, advocates hopeful proposed 2.5% pay boost sticks in budget

Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore said COVID-19 made the need for a state employee pay increase that much more crucial. The governor's budget includes a 2.5% increase for state workers. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — State employees, who their advocates say are stretched thin and putting their health and safety on the line for work, could soon receive a salary boost.

As part of her proposed budget, Gov. Laura Kelly allocated funds toward a 2.5% pay increase for state employees. The raise would pull $14.3 million from the state general fund and put it toward state workers, including judicial, executive and legislative branch staff. Legislators and statewide officials are not included.

The increase requires approval by the Legislature, something Sarah LaFrenz, president of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, is hopeful will happen.

“We need these workers for safety, for public health and for our public security,” LaFrenz said. “State employees put their lives on the line every single day just by going to work, so it’s going to be incredibly important to value that and ensure that they’re properly cared for. Making sure they have pay increases is one of those things.”

Following an extended period without a pay raise for state workers, Kansas was able to budget an increase in the 2018 fiscal year. As the session was cut short in 2020, another increase was pushed to the side, but the governor’s proposed budget looks to put the state back on track in its efforts to support state workers.

Presenting the budget before the House Appropriations Committee, Adam Proffitt, the state budget director, said the move would help make Kansas a more attractive place to work and echoed LaFrenz’s call to better value state employees.

“This is just a really powerful tool to ensure that we’re able to attract and retain talent and to show a token of appreciation,” Proffitt said. “They’ve been stretched really thin the past few months and (we) just want to make sure we’re taking care of our employees as they do good work for our citizens.”

Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the salary boost for state workers was made more urgent by the economic disruption of the pandemic.

“Some of our state employees have spouses and family members who have lost their jobs,” she said.

Whether the pay increase stays in the budget remains to be seen. Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the Legislature’s ability to allocate funding for the 2.5% raise depends on the fate of other budget proposals capable of freeing up money.

He has supported past increases.

“Obviously, that’s something we weren’t able to address in the last legislative session due to the events of the pandemic,” Waymaster said.