Legislature overrides Kelly budget vetoes, sustains tax cut veto

The Kansas Legislature on Wednesday overrode Gov. Laura Kelly’s line-item budget vetoes, which included several education expenditures, but failed to override her veto of a $245 million tax cut. 

The votes occurred during a busy final day of the 2019 legislative session. Nine people were removed from the Senate gallery after demonstrating for Medicaid expansion and the Senate approved a motion to bypass the committee process to consider, probably next year, a proposed constitutional amendment that would require Senate consent of justices appointed by the governor to the Kansas Supreme Court. The 28-10 vote on SCR 1610 was fueled by some legislators’ anger over a recent Kansas Supreme Court decision that said the state Constitution protects reproductive rights. 

Two-thirds majorities are required to override a governor’s veto, which is 84 votes in the 125-member House and 27 in the 40-member Senate. 

On the budget, the House voted 86-30 and the Senate 27-11 to override several line-item vetoes by Kelly. Kelly’s vetoes had included an additional $51 million transfer from the state general fund for the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System; $1.9 million in community mental health funding; $1.2 million that goes to districts for evidence-based or research-based reading programs; $261,000 for Teach for America and $80,000 for Technical Education certification tests. 

Legislators approved the additional KPERS payment after discovering that a miscalculation to the school portion of KPERS made the funding available. But Kelly said given the large number of unmet needs facing state government, it wasn’t prudent to go beyond regularly scheduled payments.  

Kelly explained her line-item vetoes to education programs, by saying, “Increasing funding to Kansas public schools was my top budget priority and proudest accomplishment as governor in 2019. However, in a continued effort to establish fair expectations of accountability and efficiency throughout state government, I felt it inappropriate to earmark education funds through the Kansas Department of Education. I encourage local districts to use their new State Foundation Aid to participate in these programs as they deem appropriate.” The budget bill also included a $90 million increase in school finance that Kelly had endorsed early in the session. On the mental health veto, Democrats said the funding had been found in another portion of the budget and Kelly’s veto would have no impact on services.  

But during debate, Republicans seeking to override said the KPERS payment would help the pension system while the other expenditures were needed too.  

On the tax cut veto, Kelly had argued it would have damaged the budget. Under the bill, multinational corporations would have received most of the benefit. The effort to override Kelly’s veto died in the House on a 78-39 vote; six votes short of the two-thirds majority.  

Now that the session is over, Kelly, legislators and education advocates statewide await a decision from the Kansas Supreme Court on the Gannon lawsuit. The state argues the $90 million increase approved this year complies with an earlier court ruling to add an inflation adjustment to a five-year funding plan passed in 2018, but plaintiff school districts say the state remains $270 million short. 

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