By John Celock
The Kansas House of Representatives voted Thursday to agree with the Senate to push a final vote on the state budget to the end of this month or the beginning of the next month.
The House voted 76-45 to a procedural motion to “agree to disagree” on a conference committee report on the state budget. The vote will push a final vote on the budget until lawmakers return to Topeka at the end of the month. Lawmakers were told the reason was to allow for updated revenue numbers to come in.
“We’ll have a better picture of revenue,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr. (R-Olathe) told the House.
Ryckman also stressed that the delay would allow House members to discuss the budget with constituents.
“This will allow us the time to take time off and go back to constituents on that,” he said. “You can go back to coffees and town halls and hear what they are thinking.”
The full House has not passed a budget bill this year opting instead to negotiate a budget in a conference committee with the Senate over a budget bill passed by that chamber. This week the conference committee reached a deal pressed by House budget writers to restore funds to public colleges in the state, along with holding the line on tuition increases.
The “agree to disagree” motion was needed because Democrats on the budget conference committee decided not to sign the conference committee report. Thursday’s vote will delay the final House vote on the budget and allow for negotiations to continue.
Democrats have argued that the Legislature cannot pass a budget because current revenue estimates are less than what is in the draft spending plans. The House Taxation Committee has drafted a series of tax bills that were introduced this week. The revenue bills are slated to come before lawmakers when they reconvene at the end of the month. The House Appropriations Committee is also slated to meet when lawmakers return to Topeka then.
“One of the biggest issues is we don’t have the revenue to fund this budget,” Appropriations Committee Ranking Minority Member Jerry Henry (D-Atchinson) said.
Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) criticized lawmakers for the vote saying that they are reducing the ability of lawmakers to have a full House discussion on the budget. He said the conference committee plan would leave it to three House members to finalize the spending plan. In addition to Ryckman and Henry, Appropriations Committee Vice Chairwoman Sharon Schwartz (R-Washington) serves on the budget conference committee.
When a final conference committee report reached the full House, amendments from House members would not be allowed. Ward has been critical of the budget procedure, saying that the procedure being used is to prevent him from offering an amendment to expand Medicaid during floor debate.
Ward has been unsuccessful in trying to amend a series of bills to include the Medicaid expansion. Republicans have said that a Medicaid expansion amendment would likely not be allowed under legislative rules for the budget.
Ward also said that with Democrats likely to dissent in the conference the entire budget may be written by four legislators out of 165.
“You just passed a budget to a conference committee that will have less people talk about a budget.,” Ward said. “Only four people will decide what comes back to this body to spend $15 billion.”