By BRYAN LOWRY

Tribune News Service

Rep. Gene Suellentrop, the Wichita Republican who took the reins of the critically important House Appropriations Committee last spring, has been replaced as chairman by a Johnson County Republican, the House Speaker's office confirmed Thursday.

Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., R-Olathe, will take over as chairman on the committee, which oversees the state's budget.

Suellentrop took over as chairman after Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, stepped down in March after clashing with House leaders on school finance. Suellentrop quarterbacked the school finance bill, which has been ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court, to passage and also led the House's negotiation on the budget in May.

As recently as last month, Suellentrop had been working with Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, on crafting a fix for the state's budget hole, which will require approximately $280 million worth of cuts to fill through June and then grow to $648 million for the next fiscal year.

The speaker's office confirmed the change, but did not offer a comment. Suellentrop could not immediately be reached by phone.

Ryckman has been a fast riser at the Legislature, taking over the prestigious chairmanship in only his third year in the House. He served on the Appropriations Committee during his previous two years.

Ryckman was re-elected as House majority whip earlier this month after being nominated for the position by his father, Rep. Ron Ryckman Sr., R- Meade, who also serves in the Legislature.

Ryckman Jr. said House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, mentioned his work as whip as being a key factor in the decision to make him chairman. Ryckman said he looked forward to working with Suellentrop in the coming year.

"Well, there will be some tough decisions. Some that will not be optimal," Ryckman said about the challenge of closing the budget hole in the coming session. "There will be some Band-Aids, but we really need to look long-term and have certainty for our taxpayers, and our business climate and our citizens."

He said he was excited and honored to take on the challenge, and he looked forward to collaborating with the rest of the committee to come up with budget solution, which reflects the priorities of Kansas voters.

"I'm sure I'll have a strong committee with a lot of bright people on it, and I want to work with them," Ryckman said.

The House's "pay-go" budget rule, which limits the ability of House members to make changes to budget bills on the House floor, makes membership on the committee extremely important in terms of crafting the state's budget.

Ryckman, who owns a commercial roofing company and also works as a business consultant, was heavily involved in the crafting of the school finance bill, which put an additional $129 million toward schools and property tax relief and enabled some school districts to increase local aid.

Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, also lost her chairmanship of the House Education Committee. She will be replaced Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego.

Kelley had vocally called for more reforms to education and the expansion of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, during her tenure as chair.

Merrick named Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, as chair of the House Taxation Committee to replace Rep. Richard Carlson, R-St. Marys, who has left the Legislature to take a position with the Kansas Department of Revenue.

Merrick named Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, a retired judge, as the new Judiciary chairman, another heavily sought-after position, to replace Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, who did not stand for re-election.

Merrick's office has yet to announce any of the other chairmanships.