A Kansas pandemic recovery task force sent only one item to the State Finance Council for approval Wednesday amid disagreements on everything from appropriation of funds to committee structure. (May 26, 2021, photo by Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — New members of an advisory panel tasked with determining how to use federal aid balked Wednesday at the idea of using $1 million for a lottery to incentivize inoculation from COVID-19.
GOP leaders and their appointees squabbled with Gov. Laura Kelly’s appointees over nearly every proposal and possible recommendation during a three-hour meeting.
The Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas Task Force, originally established in May 2020 to oversee the distribution of federal CARES Act funds, is now tasked with doing the same for $1.6 billion in discretionary monies from the American Rescue Plan. All recommendations are made to the State Finance Council, which has the final say.
SPARK members advanced one item for consideration by the finance council, which plans to meet Thursday, leaving bigger issues left unresolved.
One idea tabled for future discussion was a COVID-19 vaccine scholarship lottery.
The proposal would offer any Kansan 24 years or younger vaccinated with at least one dose the opportunity to enter a $1 million scholarship pool with payouts to be determined later.
“I’m not sure I’m in favor of a program like this,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman. “I think folks should be vaccinated, but that’s their decision. I am not sure about incentivizing a 12-year-old to do something that they haven’t had a chance to talk to their parents about.”
Unlike the previous SPARK task force made up largely of Gov. Laura Kelly’s appointees, this new seven-member executive committee is made up of the lieutenant governor, two governor appointees, the House speaker, the Senate president and two members appointed by those legislative leaders.
Only the proposed 2021 budget for the Office of Recovery gained approval by the SPARK committee.
DeAngela Burns-Wallace, secretary of the Department of Administration and a Kelly appointee, opened proceedings with a proposed structure for the committee, including the advisory committee and several working groups below them. Republican lawmakers and appointees expressed willingness to work within a similar structure but were cautious of where the final recommendations would come from and who would appoint members to these subcommittees.
“The two questions I have are what is the advisory committee’s makeup and who makes up the membership of these working groups,” said Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover. “Otherwise, you can end up with a situation where all the recommendations are going one direction.”
Kansas received an initial tranche of $800 million in May — with $250 million dedicated to the unemployment insurance trust fund — and an additional $800 million will arrive in May 2022. The SPARK task force has until December 2024 to obligate those funds and until December 2026 to spend them, far longer than the timeframe allowed in the CARES Act.
Including the American Rescue Plan, Kansas has received approximately $27 billion in COVID-19 relief funding through federal bills.
Ryckman also was sheepish about nailing down a structure before the committee had a sense of its overarching goals.
“What strategic investments can we make now that helps Kansas in the future? What ways can we offset future spending for (the state general fund)?” the Olathe Republican said. “I’m sure there’s other ideas, but I’d like to have some understanding of where we are trying to end up.”
Burns-Wallace assured Masterson and Ryckman the goal of these working groups was not to insert governor-appointed people to filter out unfavorable recommendations. Rather, she said, it was about bringing as many voices to the table as possible.
“This is a proposal of trying to help us think about how we structure this and start to get some work done,” Burns-Wallace said. “Maybe it evolves as we move through it as well but how do we get a few voices and hands into these spaces to get us moving?”
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