TOPEKA — The Kansas Legislature took a step toward wrapping the annual session Thursday by approving a new state government budget that dramatically increases overall expenditures and features 5 percent raises for thousands of state employees.
A bipartisan contingent in the House voted 98-23 for the budget deal reached with the Senate, which then adopted the bill on a 26-14 vote. It would spend $7.07 billion from the state general fund in the fiscal year starting July 1.
The legislation would appropriate $380 million more than in the current fiscal year and $700 million more than was expended last fiscal year.
"The money is going out the door very quickly, making it hard to do business next year," said House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita.
Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said a significant element of Senate Bill 109 was the money for significant raises to state workers. There are flat 5 percent raises for employees who weren't included in a 2017 pay adjustment law. State workers given a 2.5 percent pay hike last year by then-Gov. Sam Brownback are scheduled to receive another 2.5 percent.
In addition, the bill contains a 5 percent adjustment for correctional staff and 2 percent raises for judges. It excludes staff of state universities, the Kansas Highway Patrol, Kansas Bureau of Investigation and members of the Kansas Legislature.
Waymaster said the bill invested about $58 million to restart two dozen highway projects stalled during a budget crisis. The Kansas Department of Transportation was directed to complete a pledge to put $8 million into each of the state's 105 counties.
The bill also would provide $15 million to replace funds cut from state universities, and investment in water projects, state hospitals and other priorities neglected in the recent past.
"I want to be part of the solution," Waymaster said. "We're able to go back and repair some of those drastic cuts that we made just so we could balance the books."
The budget debate at the Capitol could be complicated by an impending ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court on constitutionality of a $525 million, five-year plan to raise state aid to K-12 public education. If the court were to reject the plan, the Legislature could wind up back in Topeka this summer for a special session.
Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said he couldn't support the budget because it continues to raid funds from transportation projects and the Pooled Money Investment Board while not contributing enough to the state pension system. In future years, he said, it will be tougher to return that money, especially if the Legislature is called back for a special session to deal with school finance.
"Where's the fiscally conservative stances that everybody talks about when they're back home?" Olson said. "I don't see it. I'm sorry."
Late Thursday, lawmakers reached a fragile deal on a comprehensive tax reform bill, including a partial return of the federal tax windfall, despite anxieties over the uncertainty of revenue estimates.
Senate Republicans meeting to discuss the bill expressed concerns that the House was trying to run out the clock without passing the tax package. One point of contention is how the state should respond to a change in federal tax law that raises the standard deduction for income taxes. Senate GOP leaders have fought to retain the ability for Kansans to itemize deductions for state tax returns.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said the tax bill would return some of the so-called federal windfall.
"That's the bottom line," Denning said. "We have to allow itemization. The middle class will get clobbered if we don't."