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Week 13 Newsletter

Session resumed in Topeka on Wednesday, May 1st. There were a number of us that had to return on April 30th to learn about the updated Consensus Revenue Estimates that will enable us to finish adjusting the 2019 budget and put the final details on the 2020 budget. Our primary responsibility as a legislature is to negotiate and vote on a budget for the next fiscal year. Technically, it is the only bill we have to pass.

The Kansas Legislature budget process is quite unique. The budget begins by being drafted by the current Governor. Governor Kelly works with her budget director to draft what she believes should be the spending priorities based on the Consensus Revenue Estimates. Since we budget a year in advance of receiving the funds, it’s all based on estimates.

Prior to the session beginning, House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means are called into a meeting to discuss the budget and updated revenue estimates. The Senate and the House then go back to their respective committees with the budget and begin working on the details. In the House, the budget is split into budget committees that each meet individually and work out the bulk of the details with the individual agencies. It is the budget committee that makes the recommendations of what to add or what to subtract based on the agencies budget recommendations. Once the budget committee is satisfied, they vote to move that agencies budget onto the Appropriations committee.

The chairman of the budget committee is one of members of the 23 member Appropriations committee. They present the budget to the committee where we then have the opportunity to weigh in on decisions made by the budget committee or recommend changes of our own. While there are often lots of questions, rarely (if ever) does the budget get declined. Sometimes there are changes made; additions, subtractions and proviso’s for more information. Otherwise, upon vote and approval of the entire committee, that agency budget goes into the budget bill. It still isn’t set in stone, however.

Once we have worked through all budget committees agency budgets, the Appropriations committee then has the opportunity to make additions and subtractions to the budget. This takes a majority of the members on the committee to approve said change. Once all amendments are dealt with, the Appropriations committee votes on the bill and once it passes, it heads to the House floor for a vote.

The House then debates the bill on the floor before the Committee of the Whole (the entire body of the House). It is either approved or goes back for further adjustments. The Senate follows the same process. Once both houses have passed a budget, it then goes to conference committee where the 3 members of the House & 3 members of the Senate meet to work out their differences. This is a significant process that debates through hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of 20+ meetings. The final product is called the “Mega” budget. In normal years, this conference committee report is then returned back to House and Senate and passed before the first adjournment. When we return in early may, the new revenue estimates are released, the “Omnibus” budget is created, adjustments made, and final vote is cast before the Legislature adjourns for the year.

This year has been different. There was no conclusion to the conference committee report because the House and Senate couldn’t work out all of their difference. There was no vote before the first adjournment. The conference committee report carried over and became the Omnibus budget. The main difference in the process is that when a bill is a conference committee report, it is not debatable on the House floor, thus amendments and changes cannot be made. It is simply a yes or no vote. In normal years, you can suggest changes and if the majority agrees, it alters the budget. The entire 125 member body is given the opportunity to change the budget for better or worse.

The 2020 budget, as written, calls for $7.4 Billion (all numbers are rounded) in Revenue and $7.6 Billion in expenses. That is deficit spending of $200 Million in fiscal year 2020. There are a number of great things in the budget such as: increases in funding for Dept. of Children and Families, increases for the Dept. of Corrections, increases for mental health, raises for state employees, caught up past KPERS payments, restores money to the Highway fund and many more thing. There are also a number of problems with the budget: it spends $200M more than we bring in which comes from our “savings” account, it increases funding to higher education even though tuition continues to increase, it will lead to tax increase if we can’t learn to say No.

It’s important to remember that the Legislature really only controls about 15% of the state budget. With 60% going to education and 25% going to Human Services Caseload, that leaves only about 15% the Legislature can truly control. While we are anticipated to have a beginning balance of $866 Million in the bank to start with for the 2020 budget, the question arises: Do we really need to be deficit spending? It is important to remember that the budget begins with the Governor's recommendation. It is then up to Appropriations in the House and Ways and Means in the Senate to adjust it up or down and come to a consensus. That consensus ultimately has to be amenable to the Governor in the very end. She does still have veto power.

There was so much more we can and will do to improve this process. We have to control spending or by 2022, we are out of reserves and facing a revenue shortfall. Raising taxes is not an option. Controlling spending has to be the priority. When nearly every state agency does great work for the citizens of our state, saying NO is often one of the hardest thing to do. Whether it is education, health care, transportation, or human services , we cannot spend ourselves into a hole and expect the taxpayers to bail us out.
To budget vote that occurred during the 2019 session is best summed up with my explanation of vote:

Thank you Mr. Speaker

The funny thing is, I didn’t want to support this budget. It spends to much and is not spent correctly. It does do many good things for Kansas, but to the detriment of the Kansas taxpayer that is already has the 5th highest tax burden in the Nation. Sadly, this isn’t a vote for a budget. We have been forced to make a medicated expansion vote yet again. I am forced to support this budget because this budget is temporary, but medicaid expansion is permanent and not right for Kansas.

Please let me know if you have any concerns or topics of interest. I would be happy to visit with you. It is truly an honor to be your Representative and I am humbled by your prayers and support.

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Committee to Elect Stephen Owens,
Gloria Arrellano, Treasurer
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