The curious unity between GOP Senate President Susan Wagle and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley proved momentary.
Hensley, a Democrat and longest-serving legislator in state history, endorsed a 10% salary increase for all legislative staff, including the purely political operatives employed in all the Republican and Democratic leadership offices. Wagle, a frequent skeptic of state government spending, seconded his motion. But, in a blink, House Republicans deflated that bipartisan vibe.
Rep. Blaine Finch, an Ottawa Republican on the Legislative Coordinating Council, offered a substitute granting the double-digit pay hike to the Legislature's research, auditing, bill-writing and administrative support divisions.
Everybody except people working directly for legislative leaders who comprise membership of the LCC, said Finch, who carries the title of House speaker pro tem.
"Everything except the leadership budget?" said Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Olathe Republican nursing a staff budget disparity when compared to other leadership offices. "You're ripping them out. Is that right?"
Finch said the political staff were important to the process in Topeka, but others working in the Capitol deserved raises now.
"Every one of these other departments have come to us saying they have a crisis in recruiting and a crisis in retention," Finch said. "I don't think we have a similar crisis when it comes to legislative leadership staff."
Finch reminded peers on the Republican-dominated LCC, which makes budget decisions when lawmakers cannot be in session, that the council recently granted legislative staffers a retroactive 2.5% raise. Given demand for state tax dollars, he said, it wouldn't look good to piggyback a 10% bonus atop that 2.5% enhancement.
"Sacrifice and budget tightening should start with us in leadership," he said.
The result was directors of the Legislative Division of Post Audit, the Kansas Legislative Research Department, the Kansas Office of Revisor of Statutes and the Kansas Legislative Administrative Services were given permission to reallocate up to 10% of their budgets to put more money in pockets of their employees. It's part of a strategy to slow turnover and elevate recruiting.
J.G. Scott, director of the branch performing research for legislators, said that since 2011 the department documented six retirements and 33 resignations among the 32-member group of analysts. More than half quit before completing five years on the job, he said.
A factor in the turnover is a starting salary of $51,000 for researchers more appropriate to someone with a bachelor's degree rather than holder of a master's degree preferred by the department, Scott said.
"It's becoming more difficult to find some of the good qualified candidates," Scott said.
Gordon Self, who leads the office responsible for writing bills and amendments, said he was never surprised when attorneys left for private practice. In the past decade, however, 40% of lawyers on his staff took positions elsewhere in municipal or state government. He indicated revisor office wages hadn't kept pace over the years with traditional and new rivals for talent, he said.
"To me," he said, "it's unacceptable that we're losing attorneys to other state agencies, including local government."