Not this Session

Sometimes you ask for information that, once you get it, you wonder why you even asked for it in the first place.

The Legislative Committee on Post Audit did just that.

It asked Post Audit how Kansas’ leaders’ salaries compare to leaders in other states. The answer wasn’t good, but it is something that practically, legislators can’t do anything about…at least not in the upcoming election-year session when every seat in the Kansas House and Senate is up for election.

The numbers? Members of the Kansas legislature, with a few exceptions, make about $22,000 a year for their service in the 90-day sessions. That’s the $77 a day for the session plus a per-diem payment of about $13,700 for the session to cover housing and other costs of living in Topeka during the session for out-of-towners.

There’s no asterisk in the per diem to keep track of just how much those lawmakers save on meals because there’s almost always some event at lunch and dinner when lobbyists could pick up the cost of meals and drinks and entertainment.

That Post Audit report makes an important differentiation between full-time legislatures. Kansas is lower than all but Nebraska. Oklahoma lawmakers? They take home about $50,000, Missouri and Colorado more than $40,000, Iowa about $40,000 and Nebraska a dab less than Kansas’ $21,900.

If you ran home to tell your mother that you’d just got a job that pays $22,000 a year, she’d probably tell you to keep looking.

But it’s a full-time job only from January to maybe June, with a month off for Spring Break and a pretty good holiday schedule.

And, most legislators have other work during the rest of the year that we presume makes the house and car payments in their districts or they are retired. Some farm, some have businesses that allow them to take part of the year off. Because the legislative day has some breaks, there’s time to get in a little real work at their businesses. Or…they farm and don’t have to be there every day to make sure the wheat and corn actually grow when they are in Topeka.

But…that low salary probably means there are folks out there in the state who can’t afford to serve in the Legislature, even if they managed to round up the campaign money to get elected. 

When done right, that 90-day session is just a part of their job. The rest of the year: Campaigning, meeting with constituents, learning everything possible about their district and constituents so they can represent them well in the Statehouse.  

Chances are excellent that just because voters in a district — from a few square blocks in a city to a dozen counties out west – elected them, they don’t know how every piece of legislation is going to impact their district. That takes hundreds of hours a year.

There is also the mingling at events in their district during the year, showing up for parades and meetings. And every legislator has a story about watching the ice cream melt in the grocery cart while a constituent complained about fence laws or property taxes or the school district’s budget.

Part-time job? Not by a long shot when done well so that they can represent their constituents.

Kansas lawmakers probably need a raise. But which of them, except probably some who aren’t seeking re-election, want their vote recorded to raise their salaries? 

Hmmm…not seeing a majority of a quorum of either chamber ready to make that vote in an election year. 

Because we’re not seeing anyone propose one “free” vote in the upcoming session…

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