Kelly signs budget, line-item vetoes 18 provisions


Gov Laura Kelly signed the state budget on Monday, but vetoed 18 provisions of the state’s new spending plan, including a proposal cutting her out of making decisions about how COVID-19 relief money would be spent.

In signing the budget for fiscal years 2021 and 2022, the governor also vetoed a provision requiring state agencies and contractors to verify the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.

And the governor also countered the Legislature’s effort to reclaim office space on the 2nd floor of the Capitol for a meditation room, continuing an evolving dispute with Republicans over how that room should be used.

The budget totals $21.4 billion for fiscal year 2021 and $15.4 billion for 2022. It does not include funding for education, which is part of a separate bill that failed to pass the Senate at the end of the regular session.

Democratic lawmakers had expressed serious concern about removing  the governor from the process for deciding how $1.6 billion in COVID-19 relief money would be spent.

The budget passed by the Legislature delegated review and decisions over new federal relief money to the joint Legislative Budget Committee and the Legislative Coordinating Council.

The budget committee would review the federal funds received by the state and would make recommendations to the Legislative Coordinating Council for approval.

It would be a very different approach from how the last round of relief money was doled out when the governor created a special committee of business, civic and political leaders to help make decisions over how the money was spent.

Last year, the State Finance Council was tasked with signing off on the recommendations made by the governor’s 15-member panel.

The governor sits on the State Finance Council and generally has the power to kill a recommendation made by a majority of the legislators on the committee who can’t override her objection.

It was an issue that irritated Republican lawmakers last year when the governor opposed some of their proposals for how to spend the money, including suggestions to put money into COVID-19 testing and the unemployment trust fund.

Republican leaders thought the process used last year rubber stamped how the governor wanted to spend the money.

Democrats said they didn’t think a small group of lawmakers should have control over such a large sum of money.

“The process for allocating federal funds should follow the agreed-upon process of approval through the State Finance Council after recommendation from the SPARK task force,” the governor said.

“This will ensure that federal funds are allocated with a full understanding of the relevant federal requirements and limitations while receiving input from the private sector through a transparent process.

“Changing this now will create confusion and slow down the ability to make meaningful investments critical to our economic recovery.

Meditation room on the ground floor

The veto of the office space on the 2nd floor of the Capitol continues a feud over a room that former Gov. Sam Brownback once made available for meditation.

In previous years, the budget contained provisos that designated the room as a meditation room.

But last year a proviso was not included in the budget and the governor’s staff repurposed it for constituent services, angering Republicans.

The new meditation room is located on the Capitol’s ground floor in a room that had been used for shooting videos and television interviews.

Republicans say very few people know how to reach the room now because it’s not in a very public location.

“I support legislative efforts to provide a meditation space in one of the many rooms in the Capitol that remain unused for much of the year and are more convenient, more accessible, and closer to the public entrance,” Kelly said.

Kelly did veto one item that was pushed by a member of her own party.

The governor vetoed language requiring state agencies and major contractors to use E-Verify, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security website that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.

The bill would require all state agencies to enroll in E-Verify to determine whether employees hired after Jan. 1, 2022 are eligible to work in the United States.

It would apply to state contractors that do at least $50,000 worth of business with the state to verify the eligibility of their employees.

It also bars state agencies from awarding contracts to businesses unless they ensure that their subcontractors verify the eligibility of their employees as well.

The Senate added the E-Verify provision to the budget – without opposition – at the urging of Democratic state Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City.

“Although I welcome policies to help improve oversight and accountability for state operations and contracts, blanket policy changes to the state’s administrative processes should be fully vetted by stakeholders, legislators, and the public through the traditional legislative process,” the governor said.

The budget passed 21-14 in the Senate and 71-52 in the House.

In other line-item vetoes:

  • Banking Board pay. Vetoed a section increasing the per diem for Kansas Banking Board Members from $35 to $100 for the 2021 fiscal year, which ends in less than 70 days. “The legislature should study this issue over the interim and make recommendations applicable to all boards and commissions. These recommendations should consider the fiscal impact of potential increases.”

  • Board of Regents. Vetoed a section providing $10.3 million for the State University Capital Renewal Initiative. The funding was equal to what was included in the budget to be used at the discretion of the Kansas Board of Regents. “While I provided discretion to the Board of Regents on the use of this funding, the amount was calculated based on the share that the Regents System would receive if all state employees received a 2.5% salary and wage adjustment and not as a bond service payment on deferred maintenance. Although investments to address infrastructure issues are critically important, this specific state appropriation should be included with pay increases for state employees as intended. The Kansas Board of Regents should utilize federal funds to pay for deferred maintenance.”
  • Highway Patrol planes. Vetoed a proposal requiring the Kansas Highway Patrol to trade in two aircraft and allow it to purchase one aircraft. “My budget provided comprehensive funding for Kansas Highway Patrol aircraft. This section does not. I encourage the Legislature to work with the administration to find comprehensive funding to address this needed enhancement, including the possibility of using one-time federal funding.”
  • Hope Ranch. Rejected language requiring the Department for Children and Families to provide up to $300,000 of public funds to the Hope Ranch for Women. “If the Legislature wishes to establish a new program to provide more funding to organizations doing this critical work, it should send a fully vetted piece of legislation to my desk after thorough legislative, stakeholder, and public review.” Hope Ranch for Women is a faith-based group that helps victims of human trafficking. It provides equine-assisted learning, mentoring and a residential home so that women can be “free and healed from the physical, mental, and spiritual effects of exploitation.”
  • Kansas State University—Polytechnic Campus.  Line-item vetoed $160,080 for  the Kansas State University Polytechnic campus with the stated justification that it is intended to reimburse the campus for revenue received by the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System from the sale of surplus property. “If the Legislature wants to create a different distribution formula for proceeds from the sale of surplus real estate, then it should amend the statute to do so for all state agencies and not provide an exception to the statute for the sale of surplus property by one entity. If this is intended to be an enhancement for Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus, then it should apply for such an enhancement through the normal process.”

  • Masks. Vetoed sections of the budget barring Kansas State University or Kansas State University Extension Systems and Agricultural Research Programs from requring participants to wear face masks or have a COVID-19 vaccination to participate in any 4-H organization, unit, event, or activity. “Most children eligible to participate in 4-H are not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, much less be required to take it. During the pandemic, many involved in 4-H have demonstrated commitment and leadership in protecting the health of their communities and family and we should commend them for their efforts.”
  • Masks (part 2): Vetoed language prohibiting any expenditures to issue or enforce a statewide mask mandate. “This proviso is unnecessary considering the significant changes made to the Kansas Emergency Management Act in Senate Bill 40. There are already enough avenues for the legislature—and even private citizens—to challenge or overturn public health measures such as mask mandates, which reduce the spread of the coronavirus, reduce hospitalizations, and save lives.”
  • Public broadcasting. Nixed part of the budget prohibiting any appropriation for a public broadcasting station that is moved to a different location or has a plan to move to a different location. “It has been brought to my attention that this language was broader than intended. Please work with interested parties to agree to language that is more narrowly tailored.”
  • Performance-based budgeting: Vetoed language that would cut agency budgets by 2% – not counting colleges and universities – if they did not submit performance based budgets. “As the former ranking member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, I know first-hand the importance of making budgeting decisions based on the effectiveness of state programs and services. State agencies already provide annual performance-based budgets for consideration during the budgeting process. Although steps to continually improve agency data and metrics are important, attaching these efforts to substantial punitive budget cuts are dangerous and counterproductive.”
  • State hospital pay. Rejected a measure requiring the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services to provide the same starting salary and wages for entry-level positions at Larned State Hospital as the Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility. “If this is a priority for the Legislature, the Legislature should appropriate additional funding for the agency to implement higher entry-level salary and wages.”
  • State hospital moratorium. Rejected language requiring the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services to lift the admissions moratorium at state hospitals by Oct. 1. “The COVID-19 pandemic delayed certain building activities in that plan, pushing the expected completion date to the beginning of 2022. This proviso simply lifts the moratorium earlier than is possible, without any feasible re-opening plan or funding. This will force the agency to pay higher costs for contract staff and an expedited construction timeline.”
  • State trooper pay: Vetoed language requiring the Kansas Highway Patrol to make expenditures to provide salary and wage parity between the Capitol Police and state troopers. “We should respect the Kansas Highway Patrol’s request to address this issue internally.”