Gov. Sam Brownback lashed out at Kansas lawmakers Monday after they formally ended the 2017 legislative session, saying that “the session made history, but for all the wrong reasons.”
Brownback released a statement shortly after lawmakers formally concluded the 114-day session, criticizing the new tax plan and state spending approved by the Legislature.
“This session marks a drastic departure from fiscal restraint,” Brownback said in the statement. “I trust that future legislatures will return to a pro-growth orientation that will once again set Kansas on the path toward becoming the best state in America to raise a family and grow a business.”
But Brownback, despite having the authority to do so, chose not to make line-item vetoes to strike down major spending in the budget, which he signed into law over the weekend. He also did not use his executive power to make budget cuts himself when lawmakers returned in January and faced immediate budget problems.
Kansas lawmakers who voted to roll back his 2012 tax cuts continued to defend their decision.
Rep. Tom Cox, a Shawnee Republican, said this year’s Legislature was the first in a long time “that was able to step up to the plate and actually start solving some of the problems.”
“We were cleaning up the mess and fixing the problems that were created by the last four years,” Cox said. “There’s not a person in there that enjoyed that tax vote.”
And Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, championed the work lawmakers accomplished this year.
“I think this session is actually going to go down as one of the most significant because of the reinstatement of the three-tier tax system and finally overriding the governor’s 2012 radical experiment,” Kelly said. “I’m very glad to have been part of it.”
Lawmakers’ return to Topeka on Monday tied the 2015 record for the longest legislative session in state history at 114 days.
The new tax plan raises individual income tax rates, ends a tax exemption for certain business owners and moves the state from a two-bracket tax system to three. The increases are projected to raise more than $1.2 billion for the state over a two-year span.
There was little legislative work Monday as the Senate quickly adjourned in the morning, effectively ending any effort in the House to override any of Brownback’s three recent vetoes.
“It ended up being a non-event,” Rep. Erin Davis, an Olathe Republican.
Brownback announced several vetoes before lawmakers returned, including his decision to strike down a bill that would have allowed Kansas lottery tickets to be sold through vending machines.
Over the weekend, he signed the budget bill for future fiscal years and made two line-item vetoes on the legislation.
Because of one of those vetoes, Brownback will retain the power to consolidate disability services — making advocates for the disabled and some lawmakers uneasy.
Individuals with disabilities can apply to obtain what are called Medicaid waivers to receive home and community-based services that are not typically allowed by Medicaid. The waivers can cover round-the-clock intensive care, help with daily living, educational assistance, work assistance and medical care.
Brownback has promised his administration will not consolidate the services or make other substantive changes without approval from the Legislature. But the governor and other opponents of the budget provision argued it was overly broad and could prevent changes to unrelated programs.
Sean Gatewood, spokesman for the KanCare Advocates Network, said without the provision, the administration could change eligibility standards and could cap or remove benefits, possibly causing more individuals to be institutionalized.
“The Legislature should be weighing in on that,” Gatewood said.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said he was prepared to try to override the veto. But no override attempt happened after it became clear the Senate had adjourned.
Lawmakers would have needed to muster 84 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate to overcome Brownback’s veto.
“I just think it’s very frustrating,” Ward said.