The Kansas Legislature took a step toward wrapping the annual session Thursday by approving a new state government budget that dramatically increases overall expenditures and features 5 percent raises for thousands of state employees.
Despite lack of final agreement on a comprehensive tax reform bill that remains a high priority, a bipartisan contingent in the House voted 98-23 for the budget deal reached with the Senate, which then adopted the bill on a 26-14 vote. It would spend $7.07 billion from the state general fund in the fiscal year starting July 1.
The legislation would appropriate $380 million more than in the current fiscal year and $700 million more than was expended last fiscal year.
“The money is going out the door very quickly, making it hard to do business next year,” said House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita.
Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said a significant element of Senate Bill 109 was the money for significant raises to state workers. There are flat 5 percent raises for employees who weren’t included in a 2017 pay adjustment law. State workers given a 2.5 percent pay hike last year by then-Gov. Sam Brownback are scheduled to receive another 2.5 percent.
In addition, the bill contains a 5 percent adjustment for correctional staff and 2 percent raises for judges. It excludes staff of state universities, the Kansas Highway Patrol, Kansas Bureau of Investigation and members of the Kansas Legislature.
Waymaster said the bill invested about $58 million to restart two dozen highway projects stalled during a budget crisis. The Kansas Department of Transportation was directed to complete a pledge to put $8 million into each of the state’s 105 counties.
The bill also would provide $15 million to replace funds cut from state universities, and investment in water projects, state hospitals and other priorities neglected in the recent past.
“I want to be part of the solution,” Waymaster said. “We’re able to go back and repair some of those drastic cuts that we made just so we could balance the books.”
The budget debate at the Capitol could be complicated by an impending ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court on constitutionality of a $525 million, five-year plan to raise state aid to K-12 public education. If the court were to reject the plan, the Legislature could wind up back in Topeka this summer for a special session.
Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said he couldn’t support the budget because it continues to raid funds from transportation projects and the Pooled Money Investment Board while not contributing enough to the state pension system. In future years, he said, it will be tougher to return that money, especially if the Legislature is called back for a special session to deal with school finance.
“Where’s the fiscally conservative stances that everybody talks about when they’re back home?” Olson said. “I don’t see it. I’m sorry.”
While legislators wrangled details of the major tax bill, the Senate approved a measure exempting from the state’s sales tax the value of rebates on purchases of new vehicles. House Bill 2111, which initiates a three-year tax break on July 1, was approved 38-0 and forwarded to the House.
Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said the $4 million annual cost to the state would complete a process started several years ago to remove automobile rebates from the sales tax.
“It will quit drive the purchase and registration of out-of-state automobiles,” Holland said.