Martin Hawver, Columnist

Hawver: Wailing and Rending of Garments

Martin Hawver
Martin Hawver

After a week’s wailing and rending of garments, we’re going to find out whether Republicans can make a big enough deal out of the four line-item vetoes Gov. Laura Kelly inflicted on their third try at passing a budget to give them what they can call a political win.

Kelly’s vetoes last week are relatively low-dollar, and there’s not a lot of outcry from anyone affected by them except for legislative Republican leaders. Democrats have been largely silent on the line-item vetoes which are worth a total of about $54 million from the multibillion-dollar budget.

Only significant spending cut accomplished with a ballpoint pen is $51 million in accelerated repayment of money borrowed in earlier (Republican Govs. Sam Brownback/Jeff Colyer) era from the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS).

That $51 million? It would be atop a $115 million pay-back to KPERS that lawmakers and the governor made earlier this year which most state retirees are still celebrating.

The objection to that KPERS veto? Mostly formulaic, with Republicans generally saying that Kelly is punishing the retirees, that she plans massive “grow the government” spending increases in the next years—you rarely go politically wrong by tossing money at KPERS.

For Democrats, well they are relatively quiet on their Democrat governor’s KPERS veto, mostly citing that earlier $115 million and the need for the state to hold down spending so that there is less need for tax increases in future years.

All stuff we’ve heard before from both parties. No adrenaline rush here…

The whittled-down income tax bill that Kelly vetoed? So far, hall talk puts override success as unlikely, but that’s the biggie for Republicans. Win that one, and few will notice the budget bill’s line-item vetoes. But if the GOP can’t beat Kelly on taxes, then it’s time to talk about KPERS, and those other, smaller cuts she carved into the Legislature’s budget.

And who is going to be politically excited by overriding a $705,000 cut from a Board of Pharmacy program, or $1.8 million from the Department for Aging and Disability Services or $1.2 million for Department of Education for a reading research program? Oh, they are all probably nice programs, but the majority of Kansans have never heard about them. Angering voters about those line-item vetoes would take longer than most politicians want to spend on the effort.

At this point, just a year away from the House and Senate standing for reelection, it might be politically valuable for conservative lawmakers to scratch up the paint on Kelly’s official state SUV…just to show that they’re still in the game.

It’s all about Medicaid expansion that Kelly lost this session by a handful of votes and clever parliamentary maneuvering in the Senate and the possibility that the tax bill she vetoed might be overridden and become law.

If it comes down to a scrap over the line-item vetoes, we’ll know that the politics of the session remain up in the air. For Kelly, win on taxes, lose on Medicaid expansion. For the GOP legislature, lose on taxes, win on Medicaid expansion…or so it seems. The Medicaid battle is mostly GOP leadership with thin margins that Kelly hopes to overcome this summer.


Chances look good that nobody’s going to claim a real victory this session. Not the new governor, not the still-Republican (but moderating) legislature, and probably not Kansans.

Hard to consider this session just a warm-up for the real fight ahead, but at least that will make the upcoming 2020 session worth watching…


By Martin Hawver

Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit the website at