Senator to introduce legislative pay freeze

In a nod to the state's precarious financial situation, state Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, said Thursday that he plans to introduce a bill to freeze legislators' pay and expense reimbursements.

Barnett said he plans to introduce the measure as a committee bill when the Legislature returns to session in January, when lawmakers are expected to make deep cuts to close a $358.7 million shortfall for the 2011 budget year.

Barnett's bill would freeze legislators' salaries and per diem payments at their current levels for 24 months.

"With schools being cut and (National Guard) armories being closed, I think this is one small item we could proceed with," Barnett said. "It's one small thing we could do to help."

Alan Conroy, director of the state Legislative Research Department, said lawmakers won't get an increase in salary from the $88.66 a day they get for each day of the session. Conroy said that only increases when state workers get across-the-board raises, which they didn't this year.

The per diem payments, designed to compensate legislators for their living expenses when they are in Topeka, are based on the rate that federal employees receive when they travel on business in Kansas, Conroy said. In October, the per diem increased from $109 to $116, he said.

Barnett said he was troubled by the size of the increase — more than 6 percent — and its automatic nature.

"I don't know anyone else who has a built-in escalator" for their pay, he said.

But not all legislators think it's a good idea to tamper with the formula.

Rep. Dale Swenson, D-Wichita, said it would do little, if anything, to solve the state's problem and could distract from the real work at hand.

Freezing legislative pay is "just politics, just symbolic feel-good stuff," he said.

Swenson said if supporters of the legislative pay freeze want to fix the budget, they could rescind a series of tax breaks passed for businesses in recent years.

Swenson relies more on his legislative pay than most, having been semi-retired since he was laid off from Boeing several years ago.

He said a temporary freeze could easily become permanent. And if legislative pay doesn't increase, it will discourage citizens who aren't wealthy from seeking offices, he said.

Barnett, a physician, is also a candidate for the Republican nomination for the 1st District Congressional seat, which is being vacated by Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays, who is running for U.S. Senate against Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard.

According to federal filings, other candidates seeking the GOP nomination are state Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler; Robert Wasinger of Cottonwood Falls, a former aide to Sen. Sam Brownback; Sue Boldra, a teacher and real estate agent from Hays; former Salina mayor Monte Shadwick; Pratt businessman Timothy Barker; lawyer Marck Redell Cobb of Galva and Salina real estate executive Tracey Mann.

Former Salina mayor Alan Jilka is the only Democrat who has filed to run.