The state budget bill signed by Gov. Jeff Colyer on Tuesday granted raises to many state employees and appropriated $525 million for the state public schools, while relying on veto authority to block a provision designed to thwart rewriting of eligibility rules for participation in the state's Medicaid program.
Colyer, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, said the spending blueprint was a "balance between fiscal responsibility and making the necessary investments in our schools, our workforce and our communities."
The big-ticket item in the budget was the additional funding for K-12 education that was inspired by a prolonged legal battle challenging constitutionality of state aid to school districts. The Kansas Supreme Court is expected to decide by July whether the new package, which increases spending over a five-year period, complies with the Kansas Constitution.
In Colyer's view, the bill addressed shortcomings identified by the court and could be financed without another tax hike.
"The increased investment in education prioritizes outcomes for our students, increases funds available for special education programs and will result in higher pay for Kansas teachers," the governor said in a statement.
The governor said he was grateful the 2018 Legislature earmarked resources to provide qualifying state employees the equivalent of a 5 percent raise, which should bring wages of more workers closer to market rates. University and legislative employees don't qualify for that money.
In a controversial move, Colyer had proposed work requirements for some people to be enrolled in Medicaid, the $3 billion program serving more than 400,000 people known as KanCare. A majority of legislators opposed his vision of KanCare 2.0, demanding he withdraw requests for approval by the federal government. Colyer vetoed a section of the bill that could have defunded Medicaid if the governor went ahead with regulatory changes to the program such as an eligibility mandate.
Colyer toured state university campuses in Manhattan, Pittsburg and Emporia to praise the bill's restoration of $18 million slashed from state aid to universities in 2016 by his predecessor, Gov. Sam Brownback.
The governor also pointed to additional investment of $9.6 million to fund early-childhood development programs and to provide Kansas National Guard members with up to 15 credit hours each semester at a state university at little to no cost to the student.
The budget added $2 million to family preservation programs in the Kansas Department for Children and Families, which is committing to hiring 20 more full-time child welfare caseworkers to DCF's field staff. There is money, Colyer said, to secure emergency beds to bring to an end the practice of foster children sleeping in the offices of state contractors because no home can be found.
Under the state's new budget, transfers from the Kansas Department of Transportation will continue to fuel the state's general operating budget. The transfer from KDOT would be reduced by $59 million in the new budget, Colyer said.
In addition to veto of the Medicaid provision, Colyer sided with the Kansas Highway Patrol in a dispute stretching to 1995 regarding seizure of $11,000 from a Topeka woman. The governor said the issue should be adjudicated in court rather than by legislative action.
"It would be bad precedent, and bad policy, to make this payment in this manner, especially with bill language that accuses law enforcement officers of an improper act without the benefit of due process," Colyer said.
Colyer also vetoed a section of the bill authorizing KHP to buy the Troop B headquarters building in Shawnee County by borrowing from the state's highway fund. The current lease arrangement is satisfactory, the governor said, with funding coming from the state's share of federal asset forfeitures.