Retiring Kansas senator’s gift to colleagues: A bill proposing ‘overdue’ raise in salary

Hawk hopes better wage can diversify membership of House, Senate

By: - January 7, 2023 7:05 am
Sen. Dennis Pyle. Hawk, who will retire next week, proposed an increase from $88 to $320 in daily in-session pay for legislators in an attempt to boost overall annual compensation to about $50,000. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Hawk, left, chats with Republican Sen. Dennis Pyle. Hawk, who will retire next week, proposed an increase from $88 to $320 in daily in-session pay for legislators in an attempt to boost overall annual compensation to about $50,000. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Retiring state Sen. Tom Hawk’s parting gift to the Kansas Legislature was a bill that would more than triple the in-session salary of House and Senate members starting in 2025.

Interviews with Republican and Democratic lawmakers indicated an increase from $88.66 to $320 per day during the session would be politically difficulty due to fear of taxpayer blowback. The idea of delaying implementation of a raise until after the 2024 election meant legislators voting for the bill would face voters before collecting a bump in pay.

Hawk’s bill wouldn’t alter the $157 per day legislators receive while in session to cover meals, lodging and other expenses. Likewise, off-session payments of about $700 each month for ongoing legislative work wouldn’t be changed. The goal, the senator said, was to create a framework whereby lawmakers earned about $50,000 in annual compensation.

Hawk, a Manhattan Democrat retiring Tuesday from the Senate, said he intentionally made himself the lone sponsor of Senate Bill 10. It was among more than 20 pieces of legislation offered by senators and representatives prior to opening of the annual session.

“In general,” Hawk said Friday, “I don’t think you can afford to be in the Legislature unless you have flexible employment and a good income.”

The senator said Kansas would benefit from adopting the “long overdue” salary increase because it would inspire more mid-career people, younger individuals and folks of more varied backgrounds to run for the Legislature.

Hawk’s proposal included a provision allowing any legislator to decline the higher salary. In addition, he said the measure ought to include automatic cost-of-living adjustments.

In an interview prior to filing of Hawk’s bill, House Speaker-elect Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, said bills addressing salaries of legislators as well as the governor, attorney general and other statewide officeholders would be introduced during the 2023 session that opens Monday.

“That is something that has been talked about,” Hawkins said. “Hopefully, they will look at state officeholders and legislators.”

Sen. Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, said the issue should be considered. Legislative pay had fallen behind comparable states because “raising your own pay is always controversial,” he said.

“Right now, you get a lot of retirees,” said Leavenworth Democratic Sen. Jeff Pittman, “You get a lot of spouses of people who are either working or retired. You don’t get a cross section.”

He said wages shouldn’t be pushed so high that it undermined the Kansas tradition of a part-time citizen Legislature.

Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat who won reelection in November, said she was interested in identify ways of improving compensation to state employees. She said the past three years had been difficult in terms of retaining quality state workers and recruiting people to fill vacancies across the board.

“The state is no different than any other industry,” Kelly said. “We have workforce shortages just like everybody else. We have difficulty recruiting, and given our salaries, retaining employees.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.