The Legislative Coordinating Council’s decision last week to boost pay for immediate staff members by 2.5 percent — and to study the pay of other legislative staffers — is an important, bipartisan move.
We have criticized lawmakers before when they put party ahead of pragmatism, but in this case both Republicans and Democrats agreed that something needs to change.
“Getting qualified people in is becoming more acute by the year,” said Republican Rep. Blaine Finch, according to reporting from The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter. “We want to make sure the staff are actually able to help legislators communicate with constituents.”
That means the three-person subcommittee from the LCC tasked with looking at pay levels will have a big job before it reports in October. What are the market rates for qualified legislative staff? How can we make sure state government attracts the best and brightest to serve the people of this state?
We are glad the LCC is looking at the issue. But it would behoove those legislators — and all of us — to take an even broader view.
Over the past eight years, there was a concerted effort to both shrink the state workforce and devalue the contributions of its members. Services were privatized, workers were let go, and entire parts of government were left to wither. It is hardly a surprise that after eight years of neglect, legislators might have difficulty attracting good people.
In short, if workers knew they would be valued and compensated fairly, they would have been eager to take jobs working to help Kansans throughout this time. State legislators are now forced to play catch-up.
It is also worth looking at who actually serves in the Legislature. The low pay offered means most of those who serve must be wealthy, self-employed or retired. If you have children and want to serve, you likely have to live near Topeka. These restrictions mean the pool of potential legislators is radically smaller than it might be otherwise — and runs the risk of not truly representing Kansans.
At a basic level, we should all want the same thing, whether conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. We want a state government that effectively and efficiently represents the people of this state. That means quality lawmakers and staff.
And that should mean finding ways to find and retain qualified people.