The House passed a budget Thursday that pulled money from some health-related areas but added funding to beleaguered state hospitals for Kansans with mental illness.
The bill covers the next 17 months of state spending in part by repurposing highway money and fee funds. It passed Thursday on a 68-56 vote after a five-hour debate the day before.
Rep. John Rubin, a Republican from Shawnee, praised the additional $3 million for Larned State Hospital and Osawatomie State Hospital, relating it to another portion of the bill that provided 2.5 percent pay raises for prison guards.
“Those are public safety issues as well,” Rubin said.
Rep. Jerry Henry, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said he couldn’t vote for the budget.
Henry cited several items he found objectionable, including the end of a health homes program for Kansans with mental illness and the sale of the Kansas Bioscience Authority for $25 million.
Henry said the state had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to help the bioscience authority seed startups that could bear financial fruit.
“Now is not the time to be selling the Kansas Bioscience Authority,” Henry said.
Several Democrats also said that Larned and Osawatomie need more funds than are being provided.
Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Democrat from Lawrence, proposed shifting more money to the hospitals’ budgets from a state treatment program at Larned designed to help sex predators reintegrate into society.
Ballard said the state isn’t getting much for the money spent on the Larned program.
“This program has been around for 22 years,” Ballard said. “Three people have exited the program.”
“We’re just getting started.”- Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., a Republican from Olathe who chairs the House Appropriations Committee
Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., a Republican from Olathe who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, opposed Ballard’s amendment.
He said the reintegration money is necessary to fund halfway houses in Miami, Labette and Pawnee counties.
“These are places sexual predators go to be rehabilitated,” Ryckman said.
Rep. Ed Trimmer, a Democrat from Winfield, supported Ballard’s amendment, saying there are better uses for the money.
“The only way out of (the sex predator program) is to die,” Trimmer said. “We don’t send people out.”
Ballard’s amendment failed, but another amendment offered by Rep. Jim Ward that would require legislative approval for the governor to privatize the state hospitals passed.
Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, also attempted to attach an amendment requiring legislative approval for the governor’s office to move forward on a plan to combine Medicaid waivers for home and community-based services for Kansans with disabilities. It was voted down.
The budget passed Thursday now goes to the Senate. It barely patches a projected deficit for the current fiscal year and leaves a small projected cushion for the fiscal year that begins in July.
But it may be revised again after new tax revenue projections are released in April, and Ryckman assured House members they’d also get a chance to vet 105 money-saving recommendations from a hired consulting group in the coming months.
“We’re just getting started,” Ryckman said.
The budget agreement is also subject to revision to meet a Kansas Supreme Court ruling Thursday on school finance. That ruling requires the Legislature to spend $54 million or more by June 30 to provide more equitable K-12 education or risk closing public schools.
Democrats said Gov. Sam Brownback and the conservative Republicans who lead the Legislature had mismanaged the state into a perpetual financial crisis stemming from a controversial 2012 income tax plan.
Moderate Republicans also expressed concern about the ongoing budget woes and the use of fee sweeps and other one-time patches to the state’s annual deficit.
Rep. Tom Moxley, a Republican from Council Grove, said he was “truly astonished” that the House had voted to expand the governor’s authority to make unilateral spending cuts and predicted “huge negative consequences” because of it.