TOPEKA — Top Democrats criticized a push by Kansas' Republican House speaker to delay pay cuts for legislative leaders' staff — including his wife — which were scheduled to take effect Thursday.
The law imposes a 5 percent cut in pay through June 30 for legislators, other elected state officials, judges and about 100 top administrators in the executive branch. It also applies to all staff in legislative leaders' offices, including their secretaries.
Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, sent a letter Wednesday to Jeff Russell, the Legislature's administrative services, asking him not to reduce the pay for legislative leaders' staff .
Those staffers include O'Neal's wife, Cindy, who has been a liaison for the House GOP caucus since January 2009.
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"Don't let it be lost on you that we're talking about his own wife's pay," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. "It applies to his wife."
O'Neal said Thursday that the House will re-examine the pay cut for legislators' staff because it does not apply to similar employees in the judicial or executive branches. He also said it makes more sense to delay cuts for legislative staff until the issue is settled than to start, stop and possibly restart the cuts.
His letter to Russell did not mention any legislative staffer by name or position, and his request would apply to all legislative leaders' staff members.
O'Neal said he's not singling out any leaders' staff and is not even arguing against cutting their pay. Instead, he said, the policy should be consistent across state government.
"Apply the cuts to us, if you want, but make sure they apply to the executive and judicial branch offices," he said.
Last year, the hiring of O'Neal's wife led Rep. Marti Crow, D-Leavenworth, to file a nepotism complaint against the speaker. According to state payroll records, the speaker's wife was paid $26,802 last year.
But the Governmental Ethics Commission dismissed the complaint, saying the evidence didn't suggest the speaker played a role in his wife's hiring by the office of House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell. She previously was secretary for the House Judiciary Committee, of which O'Neal was chairman.
The state's anti-nepotism law forbids a state employee from hiring or promoting a household member in a state job, or advocating such actions. It also prohibits an involvement in disciplinary action, but it says nothing specifically about adjusting salaries or advocating salary changes.
"The commission has never even considered that issue," said executive director Carol Williams.