A Chill in the Air?

There will be times, maybe when your aunt at Thanksgiving dinner says she’s decided to buy a pickup truck or that she’s taken up break-dancing at her neighborhood bar, that the atmosphere in a room changes.

We’ve all been there, but we didn’t expect that change in atmosphere, that chill, to occur at the Special Committee on Medicaid Expansion in the Kansas Statehouse last week.

That chill? 

It was when former seven-term Rep. Larry Campbell, R-Olathe, who was named State Budget Director by former Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer and retained by Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly, was battered by that committee for his lack of a fiscal note on a Medicaid expansion proposal that the Senate has proposed.

The fiscal note is the estimate of the cost to the state of passing a bill. It’s essentially a pricetag that is a key to lawmakers deciding whether to vote for or against a bill, any bill.

And the bill this time around is the Kelly-supported expansion of Medicaid to about 130,000 Kansans who don’t have health insurance. Turns out that Campbell had a pretty good estimate of the cost of expanding that health-care coverage to the state’s poor, but not a clue of the pricetag of a complex Senate-generated proposal for getting that 90 percent federal/10 percent state funded plan enacted.

Nobody expects the state budget director to walk across water when he goes to the Statehouse to present a fiscal note on just what a piece of legislation is likely to cost the state. But lawmakers have rarely heard a budget director tell them that he’s not authorized to put together one of those fiscal notes until there is actually a bill typed up and introduced. 

Of course, Campbell did have a pricetag for the Medicaid expansion bill proposed by Kelly, passed by the House and ignored by the Senate last year. That was a bill, not just a plan for a bill proposed by a Senate committee a couple weeks ago.

So…Campbell only had a fiscal note for a bill that the Senate leadership doesn’t like and doesn’t want and no fiscal note for the not-yet-a-bill that Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, crafted. 

It instantly became political, with assertions that Campbell was just the governor’s guy, sending the message that the budget director—and possibly any fiscal notes on bills the governor doesn’t like—are questionable. That’s an earth-shaking change in the Statehouse for us folks who hang out at the Statehouse for a living, or possibly as a condition of probation.


Nope, we don’t know yet just what that little scuffle is going to amount to in the upcoming election-year session. But there are suspicions.

Maybe that little flare-up means that the Republicans who run the Legislature are getting ready for open warfare with the governor. 

It casts doubt on the willingness of the governor, and her employees, for cooperating with lawmakers. That has the effect of essentially either freezing out the governor or the Legislature from actually driving the state. That devolves into what becomes a governor vs. Legislature fight that will delay everything that is politically and financially important. 

It also has the effect of determining whether the top-heavy Republican majorities in both House and Senate can become a  unilateral “no” vote, or a “yes” vote, or majorities that have the power to override gubernatorial vetoes on anything with a political aspect…like Medicaid expansion, of course, or maybe tax cuts and who gets them…

Nothing is simple in the Statehouse, and maybe, just maybe, we got a taste of confrontation that will make everything harder.

We’ll see…