The head of an organization that represents Kansas state employees is criticizing Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration for using a state agency to deliver a political attack on the Legislature.
Robert Choromanski, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said it was inappropriate for the administration to send an email to employees of the Kansas Department for Children and Families that criticizes lawmakers for raising taxes.
“It was such a hyperpartisan email,” Choromanski said, adding that politics belongs on the campaign trail, not the inboxes of state employees.
Choromanski said complaints from several KOSE members who work for DCF alerted him to the email, which he shared Tuesday with several legislators and media outlets.
“They were appalled that they (the administration) would be so political,” he said.
The email, written in the form of a memo with a subject line of “Smaller paycheck, bigger government,” also went to a general audience, including the media.
Written by Melika Willoughby, communications director for Brownback, the memo stated: “The 2017 legislative session is now over, but the pain to your pocketbook is just beginning. This legislature made history to the tune of a $1.2 billion tax hike on working Kansans.”
The memo went on to say that “spend happy” lawmakers misled the public by saying the tax increases were needed to address shortfalls of more than $900 million in this and next year’s state budgets.
“That is simply false,” it states. “They chose to spend brand new dollars, more than $200 million, on a legislative wish list.”
That wish list included $26 million to provide raises for state employees — their first across-the-board pay increase since 2008.
“State employees thought the governor’s office would maybe be more positive about the budget and pay raises,” Choromanski said. “Instead they decided to take a hyperpartisan turn and basically attack state employees indirectly.”
Despite having concerns about "excessive spending," Brownback signed the budget the day before the memo was sent to avoid disrupting core functions of government and because he said it provided state workers with “well-deserved pay increases.”
The bill authorized $6.3 billion in state general fund spending in the current fiscal year and $6.6 billion next year.
Willoughby defended the memo, saying in an email Tuesday that state workers “deserved to know” how the tax increases would affect them.
“Many state employees will actually see their paychecks decrease due to the legislature’s historically large tax hike of $1.2 billion,” Willoughby said.
Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks.