Kansas Legislature passes $20 billion spending blueprint for state, with no money for public schools

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TOPEKA — A nearly $20 billion state budget is on its way to Gov. Laura Kelly’s desk after both the House and Senate passed it Friday on the last day of the regular session.

While the budget includes funding for state employee raises, human services and public safety, the most notable aspect of the bill is what it doesn’t include: any K-12 education funding. 

The greatest challenge now facing the legislative branch is determining how they will fund public schools after the Senate did not pass a separate bill that addressed state education funding before adjourning until May 3.

Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Republican from Bunker Hill, said school finance will be addressed during the veto session.

“We’re going to address it. We have to,” Waymaster said. “Whether that be a cut to K-12 or not, we have to. We have to fund K-12 education when we come back.”

Beyond education, concerns about the lack of a balanced budget came from Democrats in both the Senate and the House. Those concerns stem from a fiscal profile lawmakers requested that showed a $726 million deficit through 2023.

“I don’t think this budget is fiscally responsible, and it puts our ability to sustainably fund education and social services at jeopardy,” said Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Democrat from Lenexa. “I appreciate some of those increases, but to give someone something and then immediately have to pull it back, because we can’t continue to fund that for another year, I think we’re just putting ourselves in jeopardy.”

The bill does not include Kelly’s recommendation to reamortize the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System actuarial liability over 25 years. Lawmakers during negotiations removed a 2.5% base pay adjustments for classified and unclassified state employees, and will revisit the potential raise when they return in May.

The bill adds $37.4 million to provide a $15 increase for the daily reimbursement rate for nursing facilities for 178 days in fiscal year 2021, and the daily rate increase provided because of the COVID-19 pandemic would remain for the rest of 2020. It would also add $37.8 million to provide a $15 increase for the daily reimbursement rate for nursing facilities for 120 days, starting Jan. 1 in fiscal year 2021.

The budget includes $5.5 million for a 5% increase in the provider reimbursement rates for the Medicaid Home and Community Based Services Intellectual/Developmental Disability waiver for the last three months of fiscal year 2021. 

Additionally, $8 million would go to partially restoring the evidence-based juvenile programs account funding.

“You had a chance to change the direction of this state’s spending,” said Rep. Henry Helgerson, a Democrat from Wichita. “You know, I didn’t like the Governor’s proposal about balancing the budget. I didn’t like what she was doing with KPERS. I didn’t like the tax increases, but I was willing to say, I’m going to cut the budgets and make it work.

“What we have now is probably the worst case scenario. We don’t have an education budget and we adjourn in a few hours. We haven’t made a decision about how we’re going to deal with the funds coming from the federal government because the governor’s been cut out.”

Sen. Tom Hawk, a Democrat from Manhattan said that while he has concerns on the use of federal funds filling certain holes in the budget, he fears a situation where the state returns to court for failing to adequately fund public schools.

Additionally, Hawk said the bill doesn’t touch on the possibility of Medicaid expansion. 

“I think we’re missing an incredible opportunity with Medicaid expansion, and this budget doesn’t talk to that,” Hawk said. “I have those reservations. It’s going to make it difficult for me on the vote.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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