There is yet another split in the Kansas Legislature that is starting to be quietly whispered about in the Statehouse, as if there aren’t enough splits among the 165 lawmakers who are drawing daily legislative ($88.66) salaries this spring.
OK, we know the salaries are low, and there are some expenses that the state covers, but it’s not much of a salary. If you told your mom you’d found a job that pays $22,880 a year, but you will only work maybe 90 days for not quite $8,000, well, she’d probably tell you to keep looking...
Now, those conventional splits, Republicans vs. Democrats, conservatives vs. moderates, urban vs. rural, men vs. women, well, you name it and there’s a split that might or might not matter when it comes to counting votes on bills.
But the pace of the Legislature has slowed to a crawl, mostly due to the K-12 school finance lawsuit. Lawmakers are waiting until likely mid-March to get their analysis of just what it should take to finance schools, fight about whether they believe whatever number comes up, and then fight over the bill to accomplish whatever that is.
The information for all of that is about 60 days off. That means that there isn’t a lot of legislating going on right now. And might not be for several weeks, as bills of all sorts are heard by committees and voted to the full House or Senate for votes and maybe sent to the opposite chamber for consideration there.
That means that the pace is slow.
That’s why some are watching use of “pro forma” sessions on Fridays by both chambers.
Pro forma days are days when attendance is pretty much optional, each chamber needing maybe three or four members present to convene and adjourn, and everyone else can go home for what turns out to be a three-day weekend. Not a bad deal.
Oh, and that $88.66 a day salary? That gets paid to everyone on pro forma days, there or not.
So far, there have been two pro forma days this session. The first, on Jan. 12, well, it was the Friday of the week the 2018 session opened. After lawmakers introduced a few bills, heard the last-ever State of the State address by Gov. Sam Brownback, got his budget delivered, and generally heard how every other legislator spent his/her summer, there just wasn’t enough work to do to have a full session on that Friday. No real issue there.
Last Friday was another pro forma day, with pay, and just a handful of legislators here to do the formal gaveling-in, no rollcall was taken, a couple bills introduced. It gave all but a few legislators a three-day weekend.
Now, actually, in the roughly $6 billion State General Fund budget, several thousand dollars for legislators who aren’t in Topeka doesn’t amount to much... but we’re thinking that there are challengers to House members who are keeping track. “Getting state pay when they aren’t working” sounds catchy, even if there isn’t any work to be done.
Oh, and the Senate knows those nothing-to-do pro forma days which they enjoy, too, will be forgotten by the time they seek reelection in 2020, but not for House members who stand for election this year.
With virtually not much work to do — as there might be for weeks — we’re wondering whether the school finance freeze has already worked to the disadvantage of House members, or how many more pro forma days it might take for the general public to notice.
See how this one works out...
Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report. Visit the website at www.hawvernews.com