Government & Politics

Kansas panel approves pay raises for corrections officers

At the Ellsworth Correctional Facility in Ellsworth, Kan., a inmate was handcuffed recently before being transported from a segregation unit. Low wages among Kansas corrections officers are causing many to leave the field.
At the Ellsworth Correctional Facility in Ellsworth, Kan., a inmate was handcuffed recently before being transported from a segregation unit. Low wages among Kansas corrections officers are causing many to leave the field. The Associated Press

Kansas corrections officers would get a 2.5 percent pay raise under a measure approved Thursday by the House Appropriations Committee.

Lawmakers also voted to block Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to move about $50 million from a fund for children’s programs into the state’s general fund.

The measures were part of a package of money transfers and other budget maneuvers to fill a $190 million budget gap. They now go to the full House for consideration.

Critics of the governor’s plan for children’s programs worried that if the Children’s Initiative Fund were not kept separate, the money would go to other purposes, particularly in the wake of ongoing budget shortfalls. Brownback has said that Early Head Start and other children’s programs would still receive full funding.

Rep. Mark Hutton, a Wichita Republican, offered the amendment to Brownback’s plan, citing “widespread concern” about the move.

“I could see no viable reason to take it through the state general fund, where it could be subject to other appropriations and other moves,” Hutton said.

Several committee members lamented that budget constraints kept them from considering pay raises for other state workers. Raises for corrections officers amounted to a serious public safety issue, part of an effort to address the high staff turnover rate at state prisons, they said.

The committee approved a $3 million expenditure for Larned and Osawatomie state hospitals. Lawmakers said the hospitals need money for more staff and for Osawatomie’s effort to get recertified for Medicare funding.

Legislators also passed a measure to require the University of Kansas to get legislative approval to spend certain unanticipated funds. The move is a response to KU obtaining $327 million in bonds for construction projects from an out-of-state finance authority.

Upset by the deal, Republican leaders said it circumvents legislative oversight. University officials said the plan complies with Kansas law.

“It highlights how we want taxpayer dollars to be scrutinized,” said Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican and committee chairman.

But Timothy Caboni, KU’s vice chancellor for public affairs, said the university is using a public-private financing plan that doesn’t require additional tax dollars and has been encouraged by more than 30 states.

“This amendment inserts the Legislature into the most basic of our budgeting and financial transactions and threatens our ability to conduct everyday business operations,” Caboni said in a statement.

Edward M. Eveld: 816-234-4442, @EEveld

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