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Battle brews over how to spend COVID relief funds

(KNOE)
Published: Apr. 29, 2021 at 4:02 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A big political battle is brewing over whether top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature will have the final say over how the state spends more than $4.8 billion it expects to receive from the latest federal COVID-19 relief package.

The move comes as elected officials voted Thursday to drop mask mandates in Johnson and Riley counties in coming days. The votes leave mask mandates in place in just two counties — Douglas in the Lawrence area and Wyandotte County in the Kansas City, Kansas, area.

Masks have been part of an ongoing fight that has pitted Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly against the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Kelly this week vetoed a provision in a spending bill that would have required state agencies to have their proposals for spending relief dollars vetted by the joint Legislative Budget Committee and then approved by a council of the Legislature’s top eight leaders. Six of those eight leaders are currently Republican, and five of the budget panel’s seven members currently are Republicans.

Kelly prefers to keep the system set up last year, where a task force she appointed makes recommendations on spending to the State Finance Council. The council has eight legislative leaders, and six of those leaders are currently Republicans, but the governor is the chair, calls the meetings and can veto what the lawmakers do.

The governor said in her veto message that making a change would “create confusion and slow down the ability to make meaningful investments critical to our economic recovery.”

Republican lawmakers plan to attempt to override Kelly’s veto once the Legislature reconvenes Monday to wrap up its business for the year. They will need two-thirds majorities in both chambers -- which Republicans have if none of them defect.

Rep. Kyle Hoffman, a Coldwater Republican who helped draft the budget legislation, said the change is necessary for lawmakers to “have a say” in how the money is spent.

“The State Finance Council is controlled by the governor,” he said.

But Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Democrat, saw the proposal to have only legislative leaders decide how the money is spent is “stacking the deck so only they have control.”

“That’s just a power a grab,” she said. “People don’t need that nonsense. They need us acting like adults right now. They don’t need us acting like 2-year-olds who want to take it all for ourselves.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.