Session began with the media focused on school funding and ended zeroed in on Medicaid expansion. While these issues and others are very important, they were not the only focus of the Legislature this year. There has been very little coverage of the budget, which is the only legislation that is required to pass to end session every year. It is the blueprint for how our state moves forward in providing needed services for schools, public safety, our most vulnerable and economic development.
The school fix is currently being reviewed by the state’s Supreme Court and I am hopeful there is a ruling by the time you get this update. Schools will receive another $104 million in 2020 and $114 million in 2021. Both of these figures include the adjustments to KPERS, our state’s retirement system.
Medicaid expansion did not occur due to not having enough votes to pull an amenable bill out of the public health and welfare committee. Other than talk around these procedures, Medicaid expansion was not debated in the Senate.
Those two major issues aside, the budget was one of the better budgets in several years to address the needs of our state. Particular areas that will touch all districts across the state are:
Nursing homes, added $2.8 million for a 1 percent increase in reimbursement rates. This is in addition to major funding we provided the year before.
Home Community Base Services (HCBS) added $4.2 million (SGF) to provide a 1 percent increase for provider waivers.
Protected Income Levels (PIL) added $5.3 million (SGF) for recipients in the Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE).
Mental health added an additional $2.1 million for crisis stabilization for our community mental health centers. Also funded was the Clubhouse Model, which teaches individuals how to build personal resources to help bridge themselves out of poverty and improve the lives of people living with mental illness.
Substance abuse added $500,000 to help organizations like Mirror to counter people with drug and alcohol addictions. Both of these areas help offset the people who end up in our emergency rooms and jails, and help families in crisis.
We also made some funding adjustments to our mental health hospitals. The state is having a hard time filling open employee positions. Safety is very important. We funded emergency buttons for some our most vulnerable employees to seek help in the event of a crisis.
In the area of corrections, this was our most expensive area to fund. So much damage had been done in the past few years that has not helped us keep security guards. Overcrowding also has posed a risk for our employees. We have set forward a plan to deal with this including salary adjustments. The biggest surprise coming from my subcommittee on corrections was the outbreak of hepatitis C and the cost and challenge to treat it. In the final budget, a plan was adopted that provided some initial money and be able to request more dollars from the State Finance Council throughout the year.
Our state employees went without a raise for 10 years until 2018. This year we provided a 2.5 percent raise across the board for classified state employees, unclassified employees will receive raises within the same pool through the merit system. All legislators and statewide elected official were not included. Because the state went 10 years without raises, we are grossly under market in several areas that require specialty skills. A study will be done to look at all salaries of state employees, including the judicial branch and elected officials. Kansas is at the bottom in many these areas. A report will be submitted to the 2020 Legislature.
Areas of economic development were funded, including our Board of Regents that provide research and technical training to meet the needs of a diverse state needing manufacturing and health care assistance services. We also provide dollars locally to sustain and develop cutting edge technology such as the National Aviation Research Institution.
Having a good infrastructure is important to the safety of our families as well as having a thriving economy. This year extra money was provided for the Kansas Department of Transportation to finish T-Works and help jump start some overdue and needed projects that alleviate congestion. One of my goals was to stop the reliance on transportation dollars for other things and use them for what they were intended: preservation, modernization and expansion projects.
The budget profile also includes paying off past debt to KPERS and the Pooled Money Investment Board.
The official final day of session is Sine Die and is on May 29. This gives the Legislature an opportunity to try to override any bills the governor vetoes. Thank you for all the visits so many of you made this last spring. It is always a pleasure to see you at the Capitol and it is an honor to represent you and your family.
— Carolyn McGinn is a Republican member of the Kansas Senate who has represented the 31st District since 2005.