An otherwise chummy visit from state representative John Barker turned to a bit of hot debate Tuesday at Marion Kiwanis Club when USD 408 superintendent Lee Leiker questioned Barker about automatic raises legislators received for daily expenses while in session.
Leiker asked Barker whether he thought that should be a voted-on issue, made public.
“I don’t think anyone here gets automatic raises, why can’t it be that way for legislators?” he asked.
“No legislator up there is making any money,” Barker said.
Leiker brandished an article published in November by the Wichita Eagle regarding the raises. It said legislators’ daily expense allowances went from $129 a day to $140 a day in October. That number is in addition to $88.66 legislators get paid each day. The daily allowance is up 28.4 percent from what it was in 2008, Leiker said.
Barker said the increase is according to federal per diem standards.
“I like it that way because then we have no control of it,” Barker said. “Voting for your own raise is, politically, something most people don’t want to do.”
Leiker said he didn’t necessarily disagree with the raise itself, but said it’s a matter of perception, given the state’s recent budget woes.
“I believe leadership should be by example,” Leiker said. “That’s why I pick up a broom and pick up trash.”
Leiker and high school principal Tod Gordon often pick up trash in the bleachers of the Sports and Aquatic Center after sporting events.
Leiker asked Barker if he would support a bill to make allowance raises a public vote.
“If you could get a bill on the floor, I would have no problem with that,” Barker said.
“I can’t, but you can,” Leiker replied.
Barker said he would vote for such a bill, but he wouldn’t introduce one.
“I’ve got colleagues that need that money to get by,” Barker said.
Leiker’s response was hard to hear over general chatter: “I’ve got colleagues who’ve lost their jobs.”
The conversation eventually turned to Governor Sam Brownback, whom Barker said he’d like to see take more leadership on budget issues.
“He’s a good guy, a nice person, but I wish he’d use his or his administration’s leadership skills to come back with a budget plan early,” Barker said. “He’s disappointed me, but I was told yesterday they would have a plan soon.”
At the end of their conversation, Leiker thanked Barker for his answers.
“I enjoy it,” Barker said of the debate. “It’s like being in the house.”
Barker talked to Kiwanians about his role as chair of the house rules committee, which determines the rules by which the state house of representatives legislates. He said it’s more of an apolitical, bipartisan role.
“I feel more like a judge again,” said Barker, who is a retired judge. “I’m there to be fair to both sides.”