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Our Voice in Topeka

Representative, District 70

This week finds us on a three-day schedule — working all day every day — considering a whole host of things from abortion and human trafficking to a constitutional amendment related to the federal health care legislation. We are also preparing to reconcile bills we pass with those of the Senate. Thursday and Friday will consist of Senate-House conference committees to reconcile our differences.

As to legislative pay, our budget bill from the appropriations committee just came out of committee and will again lower our pay as well as the pay of all state workers for fiscal year 2011. Currently our pay in the House has been lowered from $88 per day to $84 per day, which is $11 per hour if we work an eight-hour day. Some days, it’s a six-hour day. Most days I’m there before 7 a.m. and finish between 6 and 8 p.m.

Typically, I have a working lunch hour making it an 11-hour to 13-hour day. That’s not a complaint, just reality. We also receive per-day expense reimbursement for staying up here, away from home (if we’re more than 50 miles away), and the state pays for a good portion of our health insurance just as it does for other state workers. Also, I travel 800 miles a month just to get to Topeka and back home, and am reimbursed mileage.

The new appropriations bill would cut pay 5 percent for all state workers, including us, and contemplates that at 3 p.m. Fridays the state will simply shut down, saving salaries, electricity, and other costs. So far, I’ve heard no opposition to this proposal. I expect we will do this.

Back on the issue of legislative pay. While some voters advocate no pay at all, (I’d guess they’re frustrated with one or more of our decisions) the issue isn’t solely whether we “deserve” pay. We ought to also consider what no pay could do to Kansas. We have a citizen legislature, not a professional one, and that’s good. We don’t meet all year, but for 90 days, and many of us leave our jobs to be in the legislature; others are retired. If we received no pay, who could afford to serve in the legislature? Could/would a retired person pay the cost to live up here, drive back and forth, and work in the legislature without reimbursement?

Those who are independently wealthy could.

Those who have the backing of a particular interest group could.

Those who still work at a job couldn’t justify the cost of serving.

Again, let me know what you think on this subject, if this analysis doesn’t answer your questions.

New information: I have recently heard of a proposal (not yet brought to the House) to increase sales tax and in three years, rather than sunset it, keep the tax but exempt food from sales tax. I still don’t see a full 1percent tax on its way, but who knows, until we’re done. Thoughts? Bad idea? Good?

I suppose it depends on the size of the tax, and it also depends on what we propose to do with the money.

We recently passed a school consolidation bill. Right now, state law permits two districts to combine into one. House Bill 2704 prepares the way for three or more districts forming two or more — in other words, the school districts can do what they think best. This is designed to specifically assist B&B, Axtell-Bern, and a “player to be named later” to proceed as they desire, but in time may help others. This is the type of legislation we ought to be passing.

You may email me at Brookens70@sbcglobal.net or write me at 201 Meadow Lane, Marion KS 66861, or Kansas State Capitol Building, 300 SW 10th St, Topeka KS 66612; or call me at (620) 382-2133 or (785) 296-7699.

Last modified March 25, 2010

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