The 2018 Kansas Legislative Session commenced on Monday, January 8. Opening day was particularly brief with only a quick gaveling in to begin the session before adjourning. The 2018 session was expected to be relatively serene following last year’s tumultuous fight over the budget that included a massive tax increase to close the $350 million dollar shortfall. That all changed with the October ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court, the Gannon V ruling, that the state was failing to meet the Adequacy portion of the Rose Standards for measuring achievement and that more money would have to be spent. This resulted in a series of interim committee meetings over the last few months and cast a shadow over the upcoming session. The largest issue that must be decided this session is how the Legislature responds to the Gannon ruling and, if more money is to be spent, how much more and where will it come from.
Attention quickly turned to Governor Brownback’s final State of the State address, which he delivered on Tuesday evening. Governor Brownback was re-nominated for the position of Ambassador for Religious Freedom on Monday the 8th by President Trump and he is expected to be confirmed to the post in the coming weeks after which he will resign as Governor and hand over the reins to current Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer.
Governor Brownback’s speech was largely a reflection on his hopes for the future of the state and a listing of strides made in a number of areas including a continued reduction of the unemployment rate and the dramatic increase in wind energy over the last few years. The only truly dramatic portion of the speech was the Governor calling for $600 million in additional spending on K-12 over the next 5 years to meet the requirements of the recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school finance. This proposal received a harsh reception from Republican leaders in the Senate and a cautiously optimistic response from Democrats.
On Wednesday Budget Director Shawn Sullivan presented the “touch up” budget to the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees. The Budget projects a $266 million ending balance for the current fiscal year, $150.3 million the following year if no other changes are made beyond the $34.5 million in additional spending this fiscal year and the $290.3 million for next fiscal year the Governor’s budget calls for. The budget builds on the $1.2 billion in tax increases from last year and continued sweep of about $400 million a year in sales tax from the Kansas Department of Transportation.
The increase in K-12 spending called for in the State of the State speech includes the $93 million increase budgeted last year and calls for an additional $100 million per year over the next five years. A few of the more interesting budgetary increases aside from K-12 include an increase of $8 million to Corrections for increased salaries; $1.5 million dollars in salary increases for employees of the executive branch agencies who were left out of last years increases; increases of $18.1 million this year and $30.8 million next year for KPERS; spending $22.1 million to restore cuts made to Medicaid and $17.7 million to restore cuts to Nursing Home payments through KanCare.
The remainder of the week saw little activity with committees meeting to hear bill introductions and for brief informational hearings.
The Legislature is Pro Forma Friday, only gaveling in to introduce bills before heading home for the weekend and Martin Luther King holiday on Monday. Next week, expect to see mostly bill introductions and informational presentations by agencies, with a few bill hearings in select committees.