Governor Laura Kelly issuing allotments; Republican leaders getting mad

The State Finance Council met on Thursday to hear from Budget Director Larry Campbell on Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s plan to close a significant budget shortfall for fiscal year 2021 which starts on Wednesday of next week.

The Governor also requested approval of a certificate of indebtedness which allows the state to borrow from itself to meet immediate needs. Such certificates are routinely approved because they solve a cash flow problem for the state. In fact, Republicans never hesitated to pass certificates for former Republican Governor Sam Brownback while he was driving the state to the brink of bankruptcy. But, of course, this time the Governor is a Democrat so they decided to fight with her instead. They initially declined to approve the certificates allegedly because they had not had sufficient time to consider her allotments (cuts).

Last night, Governor Kelly blasted the Republicans for not passing the certificates, putting the pay of teachers and state employees at risk as well as jeopardizing state services needed during a pandemic. Since she chairs the State Finance Council, she called them back this morning.

House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D-Wichita) pointed out the allotments and the certificates are two different issues – one is not dependent on the other. At the same time, Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe), House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita), Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita), and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) tried to justify their decision on the certificates by arguing about the appropriateness of the allotments. In the end, however, the finance council voted to approve the certificates.

Republicans also attacked the Governor for issuing allotments that would address only the problem with fiscal year 2021. This, they noted, would leave the legislature with the task in January of dealing with budget deficits in the following years. This is very surprising coming from the same people who demanded the legislature be given complete control over budgeting and spending the coronavirus relief funds instead of letting the Governor make those decisions. It would appear Ryckman, Hawkins, Wagle and Denning want to take control of spending decisions but leave any budget cutting needed to respond to the pandemic’s economic downturn to fall entirely on the Governor’s shoulders.

Those allotments

Under the Brownback administration, as the state suffered economically – thanks to the combination of a terrible recession and irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthy – it became common practice to freeze or cut education, drain the highway fund, and delay or reduce KPERS contributions. None of those things are included in the Governor’s allotments. She has consistently promised to protect education in light of the resolution of the school finance lawsuit. There are no education cuts and no attacks on KPERS contributions in the Governor’s plan. And she has also protected the highway fund in order to get our infrastructure needs back on track.