TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas is poised to nearly double its lawmakers’ pay in 2025 in hopes of attracting more diverse members, only months after the Legislature boosted the salaries of other state officials.
A commission created by the Republican-controlled Legislature to study lawmakers’ pay on Thursday approved a proposal to increase the compensation for rank-and-file members by nearly $28,000 a year, a 93% increase to nearly $58,000.
Legislative leaders, who receive extra pay, would see proportionally larger dollar increases, so that the Senate president and House speaker would be paid more than $85,000 a year, up from the current $44,000.
The commission’s plan will take effect unless both legislative chambers vote to reject it by Feb. 7, a month after lawmakers convene their 2024 session.
Under the plan, Kansas lawmakers would be paid better than their counterparts in a majority of states — not only neighbors like Iowa and Missouri, but also more populous ones like New Jersey and Texas, according to National Conference of State Legislatures data.
New York has the highest-paid lawmakers, at $142,000 a year, following a 29% raise at the start of this year.
Like legislators in other states, some Kansas lawmakers have complained for years that it’s a financial hardship to serve in the Legislature.
They have said the current $30,000 in compensation isn’t enough to live on year-round and that being in office makes it difficult or even impossible to work at an outside job when lawmakers are in session.
“You don’t want it to be, ‘We’re not going to pay anything and get all retirees or wealthy people,'” said former Republican state Rep. Clark Shultz, one of eight ex-legislators on the nine-member commission. “We also don’t want $100,000 salaries and people, this becomes their jobs.”
It’s not clear whether the plan will face opposition in the Legislature, though all 40 Senate seats and 125 House seats are up for election next year.
The commission’s staff, on loan from the Legislature, reported receiving only a single negative comment, an email Wednesday from a “concerned resident of Kansas,” whose name was withheld.
Senate President Ty Masterson and House Speaker Dan Hawkins, both Wichita-area Republicans, didn’t offer opinions Thursday on the proposal, saying they respected the commission’s work.
The law creating the Legislative Compensation Commission also increased the salaries of the state’s judges and elected executive branch officials. A 2019 legislative audit found that most other states paid more and that Kansas was among the bottom 10 in pay for the governor and attorney general.
Starting in 2025, the governor’s salary will jump 57%, to $174,000. The attorney general will receive nearly $170,000, a 72% increase, and the salaries of the secretary of state, state treasurer and insurance commissioner will increase 87%, to almost $161,000.
As for legislators, states vary in how they pay them. New Mexico doesn’t provide a salary but pays up to $202 a day to cover lawmakers’ expenses when they are in session, according to the NCSL. Most states pay a salary and give their lawmakers extra money each day to cover expenses in session.
In Kansas, the daily in-session checks to cover expenses account for about half of the current compensation of $30,000 a year for rank-and-file lawmakers, and those payments won’t change under the commission’s plan.
The rest of their annual compensation is a salary of roughly $7,800 for their work in session and an allowance of $7,100 to cover office expenses out of session, and neither figure has increased since 2009. Under the plan, a $43,000 salary will replace both.
When Kansas became a state in 1861, its constitution specified that lawmakers were to receive $3 a day in session, up to $150. They didn’t get a raise for nearly 90 years, with voters rejecting five proposals before approving pay of $12 a day in 1948. In 1962, voters said lawmakers’ pay could be set by state law.
“I think this is a better approach,” said another commission member, former Democratic state Sen. Anthony Hensley. “You don’t put legislators in a position where they’re increasing their own pay. You have a group of people that really studied this from the outside.”