A bipartisan coalition in the Kansas House blocked a vote Friday on the proposed state budget and later defeated an alternative spending plan designed to thwart lawmakers trying to force Senate Republicans into debate on expanding eligibility for Medicaid services to 130,000 adults and children.
The House in March voted 69-54 in favor of a Medicaid expansion bill endorsed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, but Senate Gop leaders sat on it. A day of budget wrangling in the House didn't produce a breakthrough. It did prompt the Legislature to reconvene Saturday with three hefty items on the agenda: budget, Medicaid and taxes.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, have collaborated to block consideration of Medicaid legislation by arguing the issue should be addressed by the 2020 Legislature. Starting 2011, Govs. Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer worked with GOP legislators to inhibit passage of Medicaid expansion.
Proponents of broadening access to KanCare, the state's Medicaid program, believe as many as 25 of 40 members of the Senate could vote for expansion.
"We do want to get Medicaid expansion," said House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita. "Our best leverage here on out is holding up the budget to force the Senate to have a debate on Medicaid expansion."
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said pressure tactics deployed by lawmakers eager for movement on Medicaid were misguided and would learn it was improper to "try to cram things down people's throats."
In a statement, Kelly said Kansans and the health care system had missed out on $3.2 billion in federal funding for Medicaid. She said the money ought to have been devoted to making Kansans healthier and closing the coverage gap between people who made too much to quality for traditional Medicaid and too little to afford private insurance.
During House floor discussion of the budget, Rep. Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican and Medicaid expansion advocate, made a motion to send the bill back to House and Senate negotiators. The House voted 63-61 to return the bill to the conference committee, a move viewed as less confrontational than direct rejection of the bill.
"We made a pretty good statement, no matter what happens from here, that a bipartisan majority supports Medicaid expansion and is willing to go to the mat to get it," said Brett Parker, D-Overland Park.
House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, warned legislators willing to derail the budget bill that a subsequent version might not be so generous. Republican House and Senate budget negotiators went to work and emerged with a revised offer slicing $26 million from higher education, health care and state hospitals.
"We can't add to the budget, so I think we're going to have to make some subtractions," said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican who led that chamber's budget negotiators.
The House responded by voting 42-81 at about 10 p.m. to reject the downsized budget. A bipartisan group of House members asserted the package amounted to political bullying and was damaging to the state's interests.
"Leadership comes up here and starts threatening cuts for each and every one of us," said Rep. Larry Hibbard, a Toronto Republican. He said most people didn't appreciate bullying in schools or prisons and "we shouldn't be allowing it here."
The modified budget would have deleted a task force to guide implementation of the Families First Prevention Services Act — a program designed to prevent children from entering the foster care system. In addition, it would have removed funding to boost employee salaries at Larned State Hospital, which has more than 200 staff vacancies.
Rep. Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan, said the second version of the budget unwisely eliminated $12 million in state aid to universities and community colleges. It would have dropped $14.2 million from the Health Care Access Improvement Program, which would enable hospitals and physicians draw an estimated $250 million in federal funding.
"It certainly seems to me to be some kind of a retaliatory action for some of the individuals who took votes earlier in the day," Phillips said.
Under the original budget produced by negotiators in the House and Senate, most state employees would receive a 2.5 percent raise in the upcoming fiscal year.
The spending blueprint would supplement funding to the Kansas Department of Transportation by adding $160 million for highway maintenance and improvements in the year starting July 1. It also contained $35 million for the Kansas Department of Corrections to expand corrections officer salaries, pay to transfer male and female inmates to alternative facilities in response to overcrowding, and address medical costs of a Hepatitis C epidemic among state prisoners.
The budget contained $16 million to relocate male inmates to county jails or for-profit prisons in other states because of prison crowding and staff shortages at El Dorado Correctional Facility. At least $3 million would be used to relocate women inmates from Topeka Correctional Facility to vacant space at a juvenile detention facility in Topeka.
Meanwhile, the House has yet to vote on a pair of tax bills adopted Thursday in the Senate, including a measure granting about $240 million in tax benefits over three years to multinational corporations and wealthy individuals. It also would gradually reduce the state sales tax on food based on growth in internet sales tax collections. The tax bill was offered after Kelly vetoed a bill shrinking state revenue by $500 million over three years.
An attempt to develop a compromise bill to legalize sports wagering in Kansas broke down, likely pushing that issue to the 2020 session of the Legislature.