Gov. Kelly slashes budget

Gov. Laura Kelly has sliced border funding, anti-abortion program, and ESU earmark from the state budget. Kelly made the cuts through a series of line-item vetoes.



April 26, 2024 - 3:10 PM

Gov. Laura Kelly talks with Sen. Jeff Longbine during a visit April 25, 2024, to Emporia. Kelly’s line-item vetoes include rejection of a $9 million earmark to support Emporia Sate University’s unique model for changing course offerings. Photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly sliced tens of millions of dollars from the state budget through a series of line-item vetoes, striking out funding to deploy the Kansas National Guard to the Mexico border, support for anti-abortion programs, and another earmark for Emporia State University’s enrollment-cratering “model.”

The Legislature could vote to override any of the governor’s vetoes if two-thirds of the members of both chambers want to do so.

The governor preserved the bulk of the state’s $25 billion spending blueprint by signing Senate Bill 28. The legislation includes investments in water infrastructure, economic development projects, workforce training programs and raises for state employees.

Based on current revenue, the budget would leave the state with a $3 billion surplus. The governor on Wednesday vetoed a bipartisan tax cut package that would reduce reduce annual revenue by $520 million, burning through reserves and leaving the state with a budget deficit within five years. She proposed an alternative plan that would lower income, sales and property tax collections by about $430 million per year.

She also trimmed the budget, pending legislative overrides, by eliminating a combination of big ticket items, improper uses of funds and unvetted pet projects that materialized with little explanation or debate.

Kelly vetoed $15.7 million in funding to support sending the Kansas National Guard to Texas to assist with alleged criminal activity happening at the Mexico border.

“As the Kansas National Guard’s commander-in-chief, it is my constitutional authority to direct the National Guard while on state duty,” the governor said. “It is not the Legislature’s role to direct the operations or call out the National Guard.”

She said border security is a federal issue that needs to be resolved by lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

“When a governor deploys soldiers as part of a federal mission, it is done intentionally and in a manner that ensures we are able to protect our communities and that we do not threaten Guard readiness or limit our ability to respond to natural disasters at home,” Kelly said.

She rejected a $2 million earmark for the Pregnancy Compassion Awareness Program, saying it is inappropriate to provide taxpayer funding for unregulated pregnancy crisis centers that have no medical credentials.

The funding would continue the program administered by the state treasurer’s Office. Last year, the office awarded the $2 million to a nonprofit whose directors include former U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who was linked to an attempt to mislead voters through false text messages ahead of the August 2022 vote on an anti-abortion constitutional amendment.

When Kansans overwhelmingly rejected that amendment, Kelly said, they “told politicians they should stop inserting themselves in private medical decisions between women and their doctors.”

The governor removed $9 million from the budget earmarked to support the “ESU model.” The university in 2022 fired tenured faculty members under the guise of a financial emergency, then rebranded the move as an attempt to align course offerings with the needs of Kansas employers and the interests of new students.

House Speaker Dan Hawkins, an ESU graduate who in the early 1980s was in the same fraternity at the university as current ESU president Ken Hush, has praised the ESU model as a way to right-size “the needs of students and businesses in Kansas.”

“I believe it is truly the way forward for all higher education institutions in our state,” Hawkins said last year, when the state budget provided a highly unusual $9 million earmark for ESU.