Martin Hawver
Guest columnist
There’s a movement under way to get Kansas House and Senate members to pony up money for water for the Statehouse.
Yes, another reminder of the Kansas House’s “pay-go” rule adopted last session.
What?
That change in the rules by which the House considers amendments to appropriations bills is called “pay-go” and simply it means that once an appropriations bill makes it out of the House Appropriations Committee, it contains a flat lid on what that bill can cost.
That provision (Rule 2110) says “…no floor amendment to increase the amount of expenditures that would be authorized in a provision of an appropriations bill shall be in order unless the amendment contains a provision reducing, by a like or greater amount, expenditures that would be authorized in another provision of such appropriations bill.”
It was like a first dance last session, when the rule was being used for the first few times, but this year, well everyone knows it is there and what it does.
Before pay-go, when an appropriations bill came to the floor of the House for debate, members could add money or subtract money if they could get the votes. This session, it’s well-understood that no money can be added unless other money is subtracted.
Water? Yes, that was one of the memorable issues last session, when a Topeka representative, to keep Kansas Neurological Institute open for at least another year after its closure had been proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback,  did the pay-go amendment.
To put money back into the budget for KNI, State Rep. Joe Patton, R-Topeka, added the money and in the same amendment prohibited the state from paying for water coolers in the Statehouse and tightening some office budgets.
That water/office work amendment was roughly—or close enough for the House—about the same cost as keeping KNI alive for a year. That’s pay-go: Water drinkers pay to see the water cooler fund go to KNI.
And, yes, money is being gathered from legislators’ campaign funds—the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission said it’s a legitimate use of campaign funds—to rent coolers and water. Without the effort, the only place for a sip of water is the drinking fountain on the first floor of the five-story building.
But the key to pay-go is that nobody gets much of a chance to make substantial amendments to whatever the House appropriations Committee approves for floor debate. And that means that the 12-member majority of that committee essentially caps spending by the state and has the near-final word on spending.
That’s a bunch of power to put in the hands of a dozen members, and it changes the character of debate on budget bills. The effect will be bigger this session because there’s actually going to be some money to spend this year, whether it’s approved by the House Appropriations Committee or not.
Pay-go. It takes out water coolers in tight budget years and we’re wondering what it will take from the budget even when there’s actually money to spend.
Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com