GOP leadership challenges COVID spending

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Republican leadership in the Legislature is accusing Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration of spending COVID-19 relief money in violation of state law and is threatening legal action if it’s not stopped.

Senate President Ty Masterson and House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. sent a letter to the governor Monday, saying that federal coronavirus relief funds are being spent in fiscal year 2022 in a way that wasn’t authorized by state law.

The letter, also signed by the chairs of the House and Senate budget-writing committees, says the Kelly administration has spent COVID relief funds without getting the required approvals set out in a new state law enacted this year.

The lawmakers said in their letter that the COVID relief spending must be approved by the executive committee of the SPARK commission, otherwise known as the Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas Taskforce.

They also note the expenditure must be approved by the State Finance Council after it’s been recommended by the SPARK task force.

“If you continue to expend these funds in a manner that breaks state law, we will be forced to explore all necessary legal actions to see that the rule of law is upheld and this challenge to our Kansas system of government is reined in,” the letter stated

“We look forward to hearing from you with your assurance that you will begin to follow the law of the state of Kansas,” the letter said.

A spokesman for the governor declined to comment on the letter, although the correspondence acknowledged that the governor’s senior staff believed there was authority for the expenditures.

The governor’s chief of staff told lawmakers that a resolution passed by the State Finance Council allowed for the expenditures of any additional coronavirus reliefĀ grants that pass through existing agency federal funds.

The lawmakers saw it differently.

The letter notes that the budget approved by the Legislature allows the governor to authorize the spending of federal grants in fiscal year 2022 that don’t apply to federal coronavirus relief funds.

They noted, however, that another piece of legislation requires the SPARK Executive Committee to recommend how the money should be spent to the State Finance Council.

The legislators said they have have consulted with the attorney general – a Republican candidate for governor – who agrees with their reasoning.

“We hereby demand that you immediately stop expending any funds that were not otherwise specifically authorized by law and follow the agreed upon procedure which you signed into law not once, but twice,” the letter said.

The letter noted several expenditures that lawmakers believe violate the law. They included:

  • The state health department paid $4 million during fiscal year 2022 to the Boston Consulting Group in a “no-bid contract” for COVID-19 consulting services from the
    Immunization Grant Federal Fund. The letter said spending from the fund already exceeds the amount reviewed and approved by the Legislature by $1.5 million.
  • The Kansas Department of Health and Environment spent $3.7 million in fiscal year 2021 and 2022 for public service announcements related to COVID-19 from the agency’s Disaster Grants and Public Assistance Federal Fund. About $2.3 million was spent durig fiscal year 2022. The legislators said the expenditures shouldn’t have occurred without approval of the SPARK committee or the Finance Council.
  • The legislators also took issue with $82.7 million in federal COVID relief money paid to small local governments with generally less than 50,000 people as of Aug. 11. They said the money was spent without a recommendation from the SPARK Executive Committee and approval of the State Finance Council.