With confirmation in limbo, Brownback to deliver budget proposal and State of the State address

In this AP file photo from Sept. 11, 2014, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, left, and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer speak at the Statehouse in Topeka.

Topeka — Officials in Gov. Sam Brownback’s office said Tuesday that he would deliver the State of the State address next week and it would be his budget plan that is presented to the 2018 Legislature.

That announcement was the first clear indication that officials do not expect the U.S. Senate to confirm Brownback’s nomination to an ambassadorship in the Trump administration before the 2018 session begins on Monday.

The State of the State address is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 9.

In July, President Donald Trump nominated Brownback to be U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom. But Congress formally adjourned its 2017 session without voting on his confirmation.

That meant his nomination, and those of more than 130 other presidential appointments, were sent back to the White House and must now be resubmitted.

Since Brownback’s nomination, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer has been preparing to move into the governor’s office as soon as Brownback is confirmed. In recent weeks, Colyer has been taking on more and more of a gubernatorial role, such as announcing the appointment of a new cabinet secretary and sharing in the announcement last week about the hiring of a new policy director in the governor’s office.

Colyer was also reportedly taking a leading role in crafting the budget proposal that the administration will submit to the Legislature.

But Colyer’s spokeswoman, Kara Fullmer, told reporters Tuesday that it was Brownback who crafted the budget and that Colyer only served as an adviser in some key areas such as Medicaid and health care policy.

In a news release Tuesday, however, the governor’s office said Colyer has been asked “to meet with key advocacy groups to address items included in the budget proposal that will be released the day after the speech.”

The governor’s office said the speech would address the most recent Kansas Supreme Court school finance decision in Gannon v. Kansas, in which the court struck down the current school funding system as inadequate and inequitable, despite lawmakers’ efforts in 2017 to phase in a $300 million increase in school funding over two years.

Some lawmakers have suggested it could take another $600 million a year in new school funding to satisfy the court’s demand. But Republican leaders in the Legislature have already said they were ruling out any suggestion of raising taxes again this year.

The Legislative Coordinating Council, a group of the top Republican and Democratic leaders from both chambers of the Legislature, voted last week to hire Lori L. Taylor, of Texas A&M University, to conduct a new study to determine how much it will cost to provide constitutionally adequate funding for Kansas public schools.

Lawmakers will be under a strict clock to respond to that decision. The court has given the state until April 30 to submit briefs explaining how the state has responded. But Attorney General Derek Schmidt has urged lawmakers to act by March 1, roughly eight weeks into the session, in order to give his office time to prepare those briefs.