Gov. Laura Kelly applied a personal touch to the bipartisan $18 billion state budget Monday by vetoing an unscheduled payment to the state pension system and making a few other tweaks to shrink new spending $54 million below the level set by legislators.
The package adopted by the Republican-led Legislature and taking effect July 1 featured 2.5 percent raises for many state workers, as well as increases for higher education and prisons. It didn't include resources to expand Medicaid services to more than 100,000 Kansan adults and children under the Affordable Care Act. Democrats and moderate Republicans tried to force a Senate vote on Medicaid by holding the budget hostage, but the coalition eventually buckled.
"There is a lot to celebrate in this state budget," Kelly said. "I appreciate the bipartisan work of lawmakers to pass a budget that takes meaningful strides to rebuild Kansas, including investments in public education, public safety, infrastructure and the foster care system all without raising taxes."
Kelly vetoed an unscheduled state contribution of $51 million to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. The first bill signed by Kelly during the 2019 session appropriated $115 million to cover a KPERS payment skipped several years ago when the state was strapped for cash.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said the governor should have allowed the supplemental contribution to KPERS because the system had been plagued by missed payments that deepened the unfunded liability to retirees.
"Instead of protecting the retirement of hardworking Kansans, Laura Kelly would rather pocket the money to fund her big spending agenda," Wagle said.
Kelly welcomed a $5 million increase in state grants next year to community mental health centers but vetoed a $1.8 million increase to those facilities in the current year. She deleted $1.2 million for a reading program. The governor also vetoed $705,000 in state funding to K-TRACS, which attempts to identify illicit prescription drug purchases.
The bulk of Senate Bill 25 reflected themes raised by the Democratic governor in January. It didn't contain evidence of a top GOP priority of reducing business and individual income taxes. Kelly vetoed bills potentially costing the state treasury $500 million over three years and an alternative bill that came at half the cost.
Republicans supportive of tax reductions for multinational corporations, wealthy individuals and the sales tax on groceries referred to veto of the tax bills as equivalent of a tax increase.
"We can accomplish so much good for the people of Kansas when reckless tax policy does not leave our state embroiled in a perpetual budget crisis," said Kelly, making reference to the 2012 income tax cuts signed by a Republican predecessor led to severe budget problems.
The governor's line-item vetoes could be considered by the House and Senate on May 29 during the final scheduled day of the annual session. Veto overrides require two-thirds majorities in both chambers.
The budget included a $33 million boost for the state's higher education system, which was considered a carrot to convince the Kansas Board of Regents to block tuition increases. The bill opened the door to $35 million for prisons to address staffing shortages and inmate overcrowding, but much of the money must be endorsed by a council that includes the governor and leadership of the House and Senate.
Kelly was enthusiastic about $90 million in state aid to K-12 schools sought to alleviate concerns shared by the Kansas Supreme Court in consideration of a lawsuit filed by public school districts.
Meanwhile, Kelly signed a bill providing an "affirmative defense" for people prosecuted for possession of cannabidiol substances with small amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol for use to treat certain medical conditions. The law was named for two girls with profound disabilities born to parents eager to try therapy alternative but anxious about legal consequences of possessing products illegal in Kansas.
"I’m pleased to sign Claire and Lola’s bill into law today," the governor said. "This is the first step in addressing the health needs of many Kansans, but we still have a long way to go."