If schools get the money, wages still must be held

A House-Senate committee voted against a 3 percent wage hike for about 6,000 state employees under a merit pay proposal previously agreed upon, but did agree to try to find $8.5 million more to raise the pay for some state em-ployees who are earning much less than those holding similar jobs in other states and in the private sector.
Among those underpaid in comparison to surrounding states are accountants, architects, management positions in prisons and nutrition experts. It may be necessary to make their wages more competitive to keep their skills on board.
Moving away from a more general wage in-crease, on the other hand, should be done for several reasons. The state is struggling to maintain the services it provides the people in the face of the sharpest decline in tax revenues in decades. When it becomes necessary to deny aid to the state’s elderly and disabled, to cut school funding, stop maintaining the roads and highways, close prisons and reduce the number of days the courts are in session, using what funds are available to give wage increases is neither wise nor politic.
The people of Kansas are willing to accept a lower level of services as part of the effect of the recession. But with un-employment still high and wage and benefit reductions common in the private sector, a general wage increase for public employees would fly like a lead balloon.
And that brings us to the governor’s proposal to increase taxes to keep funding for the public schools and the state’s universities level. A deal should be made. If Gov. Mark Parkinson and the Legislature do bite the bullet, raise taxes and prevent another reduction in funding for education, then the state’s school districts and the regents universities should agree to forego any wage in-creases until state revenues recover.
They should agree to do their share, in other words. If state employees must forego the annual wage increases to which they have become accustomed, so should those employed in education. State workers would feel cheated if taxes were raised for the schools, and pay for teachers and other school employees increased, but they were left out — to put the case mildly.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.