House panel endorses bill creating commission to update salary, benefits of state legislators
Legislators’ base salary of $88.66 per day hasn’t increased in decades
Jason Watkins, a former Kansas House member who now lobbies for the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, proposed a bill creating a special commission to consider changes to compensation of state legislators. A House committee endorsed the bill. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — The House Legislative Modernization Committee unanimously approved Monday a bill creating a bipartisan commission responsible for studying compensation of the state’s 165 legislators and potentially recommending increases for House and Senate members.
The nine-member commission appointed by Republican and Democratic leaders of the Legislature as well as the state’s governor would set salary and per diem amounts and recommend adjustments to the pension system.
The commission would be formed in 2023 and issue its first report by Dec. 1. The first round of compensation adjustments, whether up or down, would be implemented when the Legislature convened in January 2025. If the Legislature objected to a specific plan, the commission could meet and develop an alternative.
The commission’s evaluation of compensation would be repeated every four years, a timeline coinciding with the four-year term of senators and the two-year term of representatives.
“These increases, should the Legislature not reject them, go into place after the next election cycle,” said Rep. Blake Carpenter, the Derby Republican who made the motion to fold the commission idea into Senate Bill 229.
Carpenter said he had simultaneously worked multiple jobs to account for modest compensation of legislators. The salary persuaded some people to not run for the Senate and House, he said.
The base salary of legislators in Kansas — $88.66 for every day in session — hasn’t changed in at least 20 years. Legislators also earn a subsistence amount of $157 per day while in session. Lawmakers get $354 every two weeks from April through December to cover expenses related to serving constituents. The supplemental budget kicked in only when the Legislature adjourned from day-to-day work at the Capitol in Topeka.
Jason Watkins, a former House member who lobbies for the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he introduced the bill, originally designated as House Bill 2448, because the state was overdue for reassessment of legislative compensation. Updating compensation serves interests of a diverse Legislature, he said.
“If you believe in a representative democracy then there’s one thing that should determine whether or not you get to serve in this Legislature. That is if voters decide to send you here. Not whether or not you can afford to come up here and serve,” Watkins said.
He said people should neither get wealthy nor face financial hardship by serving Kansans at the statehouse.
“The makeup of this Legislature should look like a cross-section of this state,” Watkins said. “We have a governor that just got elected by saying that she was middle of the road. She said that for a reason. She said that because that’s what Kansans identify with. That’s what Kansans are for the most part.”
He said the bill endorsed by the House committee prohibited appointment of current legislators, employees of the Legislature and registered lobbyists to the commission. Appointees of the House speaker and Senate president must be former state legislators.
“Allowing an independent citizen commission to determine the compensation of legislators removes questions concerning legislators voting to increase their own pay,” Watkins said.
The mandate of the commission would be to propose by Dec. 1 compensation for legislators for the four-year period starting in January 2025. If the Legislature rejected the recommendation, the commission could submit a new plan within 30 days. If that second plan was likewise defeated, compensation would be unchanged for that year.
Commissioners appointed in 2026 would establish a new four-year strategy for compensating lawmakers that would be initiated Jan. 1, 2029.
The measure approved by the House committee has yet to clear the full House and Senate and receive the blessing of Gov. Laura Kelly, who was a member of the Senate from 2005 to 2019.
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