New Kansas state budget delivers pay raises, generates consternation about rise in spending
Apprehension emerges regarding last-minute, special-interest budget provisos
Rep. Ford Carr, a Wichita Democrat, said he had heartburn about a special budget proviso earmarking $250,000 for the Quindaro Ruins Archaeological Park in Kansas City, Kansas. He said he supported work on the site where underground railroad slaves were buried, but was uneasy about backroom dealing on the budget. He voted against the bill passed Friday by the Legislature and sent to Gov. Laura Kelly. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — An overwhelming majority of the Kansas Legislature approved a budget bill allocating more than $120 million to raise salaries of state employees and delivering $220 million to assist cities and counties eager to qualify for federal infrastructure aid during the next four years.
The final spending bill of the 2023 legislative session was large enough that a shorthand document outlining the plan covered 47 pages. The contents of Senate Bill 25 were shipped to Gov. Laura Kelly after receiving bipartisan support with votes of 29-10 in the Senate and 91-29 in the House.
During debate on the budget, members of the House and Senate expressed discontent with overall growth in state spending and layering of special-interest appropriations into the bill that weren’t publicly vetted by Senate and House committees.
Due to a stalemate on major tax reform that would have lowered the ending balance in 2024, lawmakers departed the Capitol with an expectation Kansas could end the next fiscal year with a $2.6 billion surplus in addition to $1.6 billion deposited in a rainy-day fund as protection against recession.
Before adjourning the annual legislative session Friday night, lawmakers rejected Kelly’s proposal for an $820 million initiative delivering to every adult Kansas taxpayer a check for $450 this summer. The governor made the proposal as an alternative to tax reductions sought by GOP legislators.
Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican who chairs the Senate’s tax committee, said derailment of legislation slashing state taxes by $1.4 billion left her with no choice but to oppose the budget bill.
“We are increasing our government spending to the point where it’s out of control and not sustainable,” Tyson said. “But we’re not willing to give taxpayers a tax cut in order to help them pay their bills.”
Growth in state government expenditures, fueled by inflationary consumer spending and infusion of federal money through the COVID-19 pandemic, had to be addressed by a disciplined Legislature, said Sen. Virgil Peck, R-Havana.
“It seems like every single year we’re adding expenditures,” said Peck, who also voted “no” on the budget bill. “There’s a lot of bloat, a lot of waste.”
The salary money
Democrats and Republicans said they supported the budget, in part, because it poured $120 million into addressing deficiencies in state employee salaries that had been identified in market studies.
Workers with salaries more than 10% below market would receive a 5% raise or enough to reach the 10% under-market level. Individuals with salaries less than 10% below market or less than 10% above market would get a 5% boost. Anyone with a salary that was more than 10% above market levels would be limited to a 2.5% raise.
People working in certain agencies — Kansas Department of Corrections, state hospitals, Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs — would get market adjustments in addition to a 5% bonus. The Kansas Highway Patrol and Kansas Bureau of Investigation would be allocated 2.5% raises to supplement career progression pay enhancements. A special $13 million merit pool would be appropriated to universities in the Kansas Board of Regents system.
Non-judge employees in the judicial branch and full-time workers in the legislative branch would get raises of 5%, while judges and justices, statewide elected officials and legislators would be excluded.
“Somebody always feels slighted or somebody feels like they should have received more,” said Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth, said he appreciated work by House and Senate budget committee members to improve salaries at state correctional facilities that continued to suffer from workforce shortages. Special pay differentials for corrections staff were extended another year in addition to 5% raises.
“We’re had a hard time with our corrections workers,” Pittman said. “This is a fabulous thing.”
Rep. Pat Proctor, R-Leavenworth, said the Legislature missed an opportunity to upgrade retirement benefits of corrections officers to help recruiting and retention of employees. He said officials at Lansing Correctional Facility were “just barely hanging on” in terms of managing the facility without adequate staff.
“We’re accepting an incredible amount of risk by kicking this can down the road. It’s amazing we haven’t had a catastrophe at Lansing Correctional Facility,” Proctor said.
Under the bill, the Legislature modified the oversight process for allocating $220 million over four years to a program designed to assist cities and counties with matching grants necessary to secure federal infrastructure aid.
Kelly vetoed the original version because the Legislature would have required two committees to provide oversight of the state spending. She said it would be cumbersome and potentially deter local units of government from seeking the federal funding.
The revised plan would establish a single oversight committee with six members appointed by Republican leaders of the Senate and House, two members selected by Democratic leaders of both chambers and one appointee of the governor. This state committee would review local government applications for $55 million annually in state matching grant funding before requests were forwarded to the federal government for a final decision.
Other sections of the bill granted Kelly’s request for $10 million to prepare facilities in Wyandotte County ahead of soccer’s World Cup competition. A separate appropriation gave $6.5 million to the University of Kansas and Wichita State University for a joint health science facility in Wichita. There was $6 million for construction of the student center at Fort Hays State University and $1.2 million to purchase aircraft for the flight training program at Kansas State University.
The budget allocated $4.7 million to reimburse county governments for the scheduled GOP and Democratic presidential primary elections in early 2024.
Rep. Henry Helgerson, a Wichita Democrat who believes annual increases in state spending shouldn’t be greater than 2%, questioned the proliferation of special-interest budget provisos in the bill. He pointed to more than a dozen provisos were mysteriously slipped into the budget by House and Senate negotiators.
“It doesn’t help us in the long run,” Helgerson said.
One provision forbid KU from demolishing Smith Hall or removing a statute of Moses until a revised facility plan was presented to the Kansas Board of Regents. The budget included $1.1 million to hire a dozen Department of Corrections staff to process mail for inmates in an effort to curtail trafficking of controlled substances into prisons.
The proviso earmarking $250,000 for the Quindaro Ruins Archaeological Park in Kansas City, Kansas, came as a surprise to some legislators.
Rep. Ford Carr, a Wichita Democrat, took to the microphone to explain he appreciated the effort to support work at the site where slaves on the underground railroad were buried. He also said he was uneasy backroom dealing for votes appeared to have spawned the $250,000 earmark for Quindaro.
Carr voted against the budget bill and said during his remarks about the history of slavery that he wouldn’t sell his integrity to gain passage of legislation, including expansion of eligibility for Medicaid or food stamp benefits helpful to his constituents.
At one point, the legislator presiding over House debate on the budget bill, GOP Rep. Blake Carpenter, warned Carr that his comments were sliding into prohibited territory.
“I would like to remind you to not impugn the motives of representatives and why they might or might not vote for something,” Carpenter said.
“Fair enough. So, I will continue,” Carr said.
“Just watch your comments,” replied Carpenter, who subsequently interrupted Carr again. “Representative, I’m going to have to bump you back towards the bill at hand and the issues that we were talking about within the bill.”
“I would object to that, because this is what the bill at hand is,” Carr said. “If I’m speaking of something that may hit a nerve with you or that you may not like, then maybe you should look within yourself for that one.”
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