New proposal gives governor voice in relief spending

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A new spending plan developed by lawmakers calls for creating a panel that would give the governor some voice in deciding how millions in new COVID-19 relief money coming into the state would be doled out.

A House-Senate conference committee late Thursday adopted a measure that would reconstitute a task force that Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly set up last year to decide how federal relief funds would be spent. The Legislature approved the deal Friday.

Initially, lawmakers were moving to cut the governor out of the process.

But the new plan gives the governor some say in how $1.6 billion coming to the state would be spent, something lawmakers said Kelly badly wanted and is now part of a deal for an education bill that she said she will sign.

The governor now gets more say in how to spend the relief money and the Republican Legislature will get a bill fostering more school choice with tax credits but a larger role in how the federal relief money is spent.

“The amount of federal funds coming to Kansas for COVID relief is unprecedented,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr.

“They require transparency and accountability,” he said. “The new executive committe is designed to improve both.”

Democrats had criticized earlier efforts to cut the governor out of the decision-making process for the COVID-19 money.

But Democratic state Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore of Kansas City, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the new plan is significantly better than what had first been proposed.

“We have made definite improvement over how we’re going to handle the federal money that comes in,” she said. “I am a fan of how we did this.”

The new executive committee of the so-called SPARK task force – short for Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas – would now be made up of seven members, only three appointed by the governor.

The governor previously named five members of the SPARK task force executive committee, which included just one lawmaker.

The Senate president and the House speaker or their designees would serve on the new panel. They also would each get one appointment from the private sector.

The state Finance Council would still have final say on the spending. The governor sits on the council and still has the power to unilaterally veto its decisions.

The Legislature had already passed a budget that cut the governor out of having any role in making those decisions, but it was vetoed.

The House voted 86-38 to override the governor’s veto of budget language that would cut her out of making decisions on how new COVID-19 relief money would be spent.

The Senate didn’t vote to override the veto while negotiations were underway on the education bil in hopes of not unnecessarily offending the governor.

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

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

It would have been a very different approach from how the last round of relief money was doled out when the governor created the SPARK task force, which was made up of business, civic and political leaders.

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.