Kansas Legislature Ends Session But Awaits Court Decision On School Funding

Jun 26, 2017

Kansas lawmakers met briefly Monday for the ceremonial end of the legislative session. They considered overriding some vetoes issued by Gov. Sam Brownback but ultimately took no action.

Republican Senate President Susan Wagle ended that chamber’s meeting quickly because she said some lawmakers were gone and overrides simply weren’t going to be possible.

“We already knew that any of the overrides would not have passed in the Senate,” she said. “I decided with the Republican leadership and the Democrat leadership that we would just gavel out.”

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Brownback on Sunday struck down a budget item blocking changes to Medicaid services for people with disabilities but said his administration won’t revamp the program without lawmaker approval. That took some wind out of the override efforts, said Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly.

“The need for an override didn’t seem that extreme because there were some pledges in that veto message,” she said. “We just have to take the governor at his word.”

The 2017 legislative session came in at 114 days, which tied the 2015 session for the longest in state history.

After lawmakers ended the session, Brownback criticized their decisions. To tackle a budget deficit, lawmakers raised taxes by rolling back many of the 2012 tax cuts.

“This legislative session made history, but for all the wrong reasons,” Brownback said in a statement. “This session marks a drastic departure from fiscal restraint. I trust that future legislatures will return to a pro-growth orientation.”

The governor called spending levels in the state budget “excessive” when he signed it into law, but he didn’t use his line-item veto power to make spending reductions.

Lawmakers have struggled with the state budget since the 2012 tax cuts, which slashed income tax rates and eliminated income taxes for thousands of business owners.

Republican House Majority Leader Don Hineman said those tax changes simply went too far.

“We’ve now adjusted and corrected that overreach. That gives us an opportunity to go forward knowing that we have a more stable funding source,” he said Monday.

But some budget uncertainty remains as lawmakers wait for a ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court on the state’s school spending formula. Justices previously said Kansas wasn’t adequately funding schools. In response, lawmakers approved a new formula that will add almost $300 million in aid over two years.

Next month, justices will hear arguments on whether the new funding system passes constitutional muster.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service.