It’s time somebody stood up for Missouri state Sens. Denny Hoskins and Paul Wieland.
The two Republicans were the only senators to bite the bullet last week and risk casting votes in favor of a small pay increase for themselves and their colleagues.
After all, the two reasoned, lawmakers had received but one 2 percent pay raise in 16 years. They were backing modest 2.5 percent bumps each of the next two years. A citizens commission had recommended it.
But, boy, were they out on a limb. The pay increase went down in flames on a 25-2 vote, with six senators not voting. Gov. Eric Greitens went public with his disgust, blasting the two on Facebook for betraying their constituents.
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Instead of public shaming, Hoskins and Wieland deserve a profiles-in-courage award. They were right: Missouri lawmakers are due for what was basically a cost-of-living bump. And Kansas lawmakers are long overdue for a raise.
There tends to be almost universal public revulsion at pay increases for elected officials. We get that. But that’s a woefully short-sighted view that speaks to the public’s long-running, often unreasonable aversion to anything connected with American politics.
We offer a different view, and one that doesn’t get nearly enough play:
The right honorables in Topeka and Jefferson City tend to be hard-working folks who often toil 12 or 15 hours a day. During sessions, they often work six or even seven days a week.
They’re expected to understand issues far more complicated than what’s portrayed in those 30-second campaign ads. On Mondays, they drive an hour or two — or five or six or seven — to their respective state Capitols to do the people’s business, and then they trek home at week’s end. They turn around and do it all again the following week.
It’s a merciless grind and, yes, they signed up for it. But they deserve a reasonable salary for their efforts — or getting good people for these jobs, including younger people with families, will become all the tougher.
As it is now, no lawyers serve in the Kansas Senate for the first time since 1861 — an astonishing fact that has proved to be problematic. The law requires one committee to have a licensed attorney.
In Missouri, lawmakers earn $35,915 a year and almost $114 a day for expenses. The $35,915 places Missouri ninth of 24 in a group of so-called hybrid states that NPR defined as states with half-time legislatures and intermediate-sized staffs. Hawaii paced the field at more than $60,000.
Missouri’s pay may not rank as an outrage, but a 2.5 percent increase only seems fair. Consider it an investment in running the massive bureaucracy that is state government.
The situation in Kansas does qualify as a more urgent need. Legislators there earn a little less than $89 a day, a figure that hasn’t budged since 2010. That’s $7,979 for a typical 90-day session, and they also receive $142 a day for expenses. That’s simply pathetic pay for the time that lawmakers spend in Topeka, and the product out of the state Capitol in recent years reflects it.
As in Missouri, Kansas lawmakers are simply afraid of the political consequences of voting for higher pay.
In both states, lawmakers are eligible for health insurance and, if they manage to stick around for a few years, pensions. Legislators, who serve as a board of directors for a state, probably shouldn’t be eligible for either.
But that’s an argument for another day, and neither the health coverage nor the pensions make up for the lousy pay today.
It’s time for Missouri and Kansas to step up when it comes to compensating their lawmakers.