TOPEKA — The wave of fiscal austerity rolling through the Statehouse may be powerful enough to sweep away a pillar of extra pay received by the most powerful members of the House and Senate.
A committee is drafting a bill that would limit for the first time the number of "leadership days" ranking Republicans and Democrats could claim outside of the annual 90-day legislative session. There are no mandatory caps on self-reported supplemental compensation paid to the Senate president, House speaker and partisan leaders working in the Statehouse.
"Shame on us or the system for not having clear boundaries," said House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson.
Over the past three years, the top dozen House and Senate leaders billed taxpayers for an average of 86 days of extra compensation, which included payment of a base salary, expense money and mileage. Compensation rates fluctuate from year to year, but each legislative leader received at least $84 a day in salary, $109 a day for expenses and about 50 cents a mile for driving to and from the Capitol.
Proposed legislation before the Senate Ways and Means Committee would establish an annual maximum at 30 days of leadership pay for the House speaker and Senate president. Caps for other legislators would be lower depending on job title.
House and Senate leaders had mixed reaction to proposed adjustments in a Senate bill.
"I spend a lot of time here," said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton. "If it's capped, it's fine. I'll come up here anyway. I feel strongly the work needs to be done."
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said he would support a "reasonable cap" permitting senators and representatives in leadership to be compensated for work on state government issues. A range of 30 to 40 days annually would be appropriate, he said.
Information compiled by the Kansas Legislature Research Department indicates the number of supplemental legislative pay days in 2007, 2008 and 2009 ranged from a low of three reported by Sen. Janis Lee, D-Kensington, who is the Senate's assistant minority leader, to a high of 172 claimed by Morris.
Rep. Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, who was House speaker for two years, set the one-year high during the period by charging the state for 82 supplemental work days in 2008. In his two years as speaker, he clocked 132 extra work days.
Neufeld said a maximum of 30 days a year wouldn't have altered his work ethic, but it would have meant he couldn't be paid fairly for duties performed on behalf of the House.
"I'd just be here a lot of days without pay," he said. "I don't think absentee leadership is good."