Kansas Lawmakers Give Preliminary Budget Approval

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House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr. and House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey discuss the budget with staffers during debate.

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Reps. Barbara Ballard and Will Carpenter debate the budget.

By John Celock

Following an almost five hour debate, Kansas lawmakers advanced a budget proposal Wednesday.

The House of Representatives on voice vote to give preliminary approval to the budget proposal following a contentious debate that fell along ideological lines. The budget proposal includes changes to the state’s pension system to allow for delayed payments, a pay hike for corrections officers and investigators, a restored cap on transportation bonding and changes to the University of Kansas spending plans. The debate comes as the state faces efforts to close a multi-million-budget hole.

Lawmakers were told that passing a budget bill would allow the Legislature to move on to the recommendations in an efficiency study given to legislators last month.

“Passing this bill today will allow us to move on to the 105 recommendations,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr. (R-Olathe) said.

The final vote followed a lengthy series of amendments – primarily from Democrats – in an attempt to add the Medicaid expansion to the budget, give more raises to the Department of Corrections, create a rainy day fund, change the policy for the state’s children’s programs and change policies for state health care operations.

An amendment from Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) to put the Medicaid expansion into the budget bill was defeated after the Rules and Journal Committee – and the full House – ruled that the amendment violated the state’s rules that changes to the budget have the funds to pay for it. Ward, who has been pressing the Medicaid expansion for several years, had argued that the amendment was paid for, since it would use federal funds to pay the cost.

“It doesn’t spend any money,” Ward said. “Anyone who has read a newspaper in the past four years knows it is 100 percent covered in 2016.”

Ward said that the expansion was needed for economic development and to help hospitals around the state, citing the recent closure of a hospital in Independence. Opponents though said his amendment was going against budget rules. Ryckman called the amendment a “violation of Pay Go.”

Ward had appealed the Rules Committee ruling to the full House which voted 85-37 to sustain the committee.

The House had a lengthy debate regarding an unsuccessful amendment from Rep. Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City) to exempt the Parents as Teachers program from mean’s testing for eligibility to participate. Winn and other supporters said the program provides for parents to learn how to parent and gain support as parents in their home. Under Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) proposal, the state could utilize TANF funds for the program and place it under income guidelines for the program.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park) defended the current program, saying that parents should be eligible for the program regardless of wealth.

“Education and wealth do not necessarily make it that a parent can recognize issues their children may have,” Clayton said, noting that the program is important to her Johnson County constituents.

Rep. Linda Gallagher (R-Lenexa) said the program provides a long-term cost savings for the state.

“For every dollar spent on early childhood program you save money on other costs down the road,” she said.

Opponents of the mean’s testing exemption said that mean’s testing would benefit the program and that many programs exist to help parents.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Peggy Mast (R-Emporia) noted that she wanted to see the state’s social services programs targeting those in need and that mean’s testing would allow for that, given the limited finances for social services. House Education Budget Committee Chairwoman Amanda Grosserode (R-Lenexa) said that parents have other resources available to learn how to parent, including talking to others and researching issues online. She noted that Baby Center provides a series of recommendations.

Two amendments to expand the proposed 2.5 percent raise for corrections officers were withdrawn after challenges were made to the fiscal impact. Rep. John Bradford (R-Lansing) had proposed expanding the raise to all employees in the Department of Corrections, taking $1.2 million from the operating budget of the governor’s office. Bradford withdrew the amendment after House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee Chairman John Rubin (R-Shawnee) challenged if the amendment would violate the budget neutral rules.

The corrections officers raise has been advocated for as a way to reduce the 30 percent turnover rate in the department, with many officers leaving for higher paying jobs with federal and local prison systems. Rubin had noted that the issue is a public safety issue statewide.

Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita), the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee which drafted the pay raise plan, offered an amendment to increase the raise from 2.5 percent to 3.7 percent. Under Finney’s amendment the additional raise would be funded by cutting $1.2 million from $2.4 million allocated in the budget plan to hire additional revenue collection agents at the Department of Revenue. The current pay raise plan is funded in $2.45 million in savings in other parts of the Corrections Department budget.

Finney had not offered the higher pay hike either in the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee or in the House Appropriations Committee.

House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Chairman J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) objected to Finney’s proposal saying that while he would like to expand the raise, the Finney amendment would cost more than $1.2 million.

“I would like to do more. I think we can,” Claeys said. “We will have to do that when we can do it in a fiscally sound way.”

He noted that an efficiency study by Alvarez & Marsal recommended the hiring of new revenue officers in order to bring in more state revenue. The report said that the officers could bring in up to $41 million and a reduction in hiring would reduce that amount.

“This is an extremely expensive proposal,” Claeys said. “This does not cost $1.2 million, it will cost many millions.”

Lawmakers approved several amendments during the process including one from House Pensions and Benefits Committee Chairman Steven Johnson (R-Assaria) that would require that any payments to the state pension plan that are delayed in the current fiscal year be repaid by the first quarter of the next fiscal year with eight percent monthly interest. The House also voted to approve an amendment from Ward that would require the Brownback Administration to seek legislative approval to privatize state hospitals.

The House also approved an amendment from House Social Services Budget Committee Chairman Will Carpenter (R-El Dorado) that would give the governor final say over spending from the state Children’s Cabinet from funds in the Children’s Initiative Fund. The CIF – funded from the state’s tobacco settlement – had been a controversial part of the Brownback budget plan, which had initially included shifting control over parts of the programs to the Department of Education, a move struck down in committee.

Carpenter and supporters said the move would allow for final say to go to the governor and provide that oversight. Opponents said that it will give too much power to the governor and that the cabinet has been accountable in their spending decisions.

“I will have to be opposed to the governor being the final say,” Rep. Barbara Ballard (D-Lawrence) said. “Why else do you have the children’s cabinet?”

The House voted to approve an amendment from General Government Budget Committee Chairman Troy Waymaster (R-Russell) that would exempt the University of Kansas Medical Center from new spending and borrowing rules applied to KU. Waymaster argued that budget writers wanted the plan to cover the main campus in Lawrence and not the medical school, which has campuses in the Kansas City suburbs, Wichita and Salina.

Rep. John Wilson (D-Lawrence) argued against the Waymaster amendment saying that many of the public universities in the state contributed and this was picking out KU medical school only.

“My concern with this is we are picking winners and losers within the our Regents system,” he said.

Lawmakers defeated two amendments dealing with the Department of Transportation. Rep. Sydney Carlin (D-Manhattan) had proposed shifting the proposed 19 percent cap on KDOT bonding in the highway fund back to the 18 percent. Last year lawmakers approved unlimited bonding for the highway fund and the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee moved it to 19 percent. The 19 percent plan was developed since current KDOT bonding is at 18.45 percent and the higher rate would give the department room if needed.

Carlin had said the rate was set at 18 percent several years ago after “careful research” and that she did not want to see more debt. Concerns have been raised about sweeps from parts of the highway fund to the general fund to plug the budget deficit and that bonding is taking the place of the highway fund.

Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Vice Chairman Russ Jennings (R-Lakin) defended the 19 percent, noting that it allows for additional room in case more bonding is needed. Jennings said that an 18 percent plan would not allow KDOT to fund projects.

Lawmakers also defeated a proposal from Rep. Adam Lusker (D-Pittsburg), the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, to cap sweeps from the highway fund at $25 million and require KDOT to find the funds from recommendations from the efficiency study and from bandwidth leasing in the department. He said this would allow the department to find the funds. Claeys said that the Lusker amendment was premature, saying that his committee is holding hearings on the A&M study this week and that lawmakers need to “fully understand” the study and KDOT plans to implement it.

Lusker said that lawmakers could not wait a week.

“Today is the debate on the budget,” he said. “We’re not waiting until next week. “

Claeys also argued that Lusker’s proposal would impact KDOT’s work with the A&M study.

“We don’t want to hamstring folks over at KDOT,” he said.

Much of the closing of the debate focused on the state’s 2012 tax cuts and the budget deficit, along with the benefits of the budget. Republicans focused on the public safety aspects, along with what they said was a focus on state needs. Rubin focused much of his closing speech on the corrections officers, saying the budget would ensure safety statewide. Rubin challenged his colleagues to go back to their constituents saying they reduced safety.

Democrats focused their closing on the tax cuts. Wilson said Brownback should be blamed for the budget deficit and noted that the changes to state spending and borrowing will have a long-term impact on the state.

“The budget puts the governor’s mismanagement of the state squarely on our children’s shoulders,” Wilson said.


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