December 7, 2023

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

GOP leaders to Governor: Stop illegally spending COVID relief funds

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Republican leaders in the Kansas House and Kansas Senate will consider legal action against Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration over its COVID relief spending.

In a letter to Kelly, Senate President Ty Masterson, Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman, Senate Ways and Means Chair Sen. Rick Billinger, and House Appropriations Chair Troy Waymaster, say the governor might be misappropriating federal coronavirus funding.

“We have great concerns that this is occurring in violation of state law,” the letter reads.

According to the letter, the Attorney General’s office agrees with Republican leaders.

Lawmakers adopted legislation that lays out guidelines for a SPARK committee to review and recommend proposed relief fund expenditures, and for the State Finance Council to approve relief spending. However, legislative leaders say Kelly’s administration spent $87.9 million of COVID-relief funding without the recommendation of the SPARK committee and without SFC approval.

For instance, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment spent $3.7 million for public service announcements featuring Kelly and Congresswoman Sharice Davids, a Johnson County Democrat. The advertisement urged Kansans to vaccinate or test for COVID-19. The commercials aired prior to the Fourth of July holiday, shortly after the end of the 2021 legislative session. The legislature did not allocate the funding in KDHE’s budget.

The letter from Republican leaders also says the governor spent $1.5 million more than approved by the State Finance Council on consulting services. The administration awarded the funding through a no-bid contract. In another instance, the Governor’s Office distributed $82.7 million to local governments without a recommendation from the SPARK committee or approval from the State Finance Council.

The legislators point out that Kelly signed two pieces of legislation that lay out the process in 2021, House bill 2007 and Senate bill 159. Kelly announced the creation of the Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas executive committee, or SPARK, in June, though the original SPARK committee made recommendations for COVID-relief spending starting in March 2020.

“Through the SPARK process, we have transparently and equitably allocated more than $1 billion in CARES Act funds to support businesses, keep Kansans healthy, improve access to broadband, and boost our economy,” Kelly said in a press release several weeks ago. “I’m pleased to reignite the task force this year to maintain that transparent process and show Kansans that we’re using these relief funds to make strategic investments where they are needed most.”

In the letter, legislative leaders demand that the Kelly administration immediately stop spending funds in ways contrary to Kansas law.

“Respect for the rule of law compels you to cease your attempt to circumvent the will of the people as expressed by the Legislature and approved by your own,” the letter reads.

The letter concludes with a warning.

“If you continue to expend these funds in a manner that breaks state law, we will be forced to explore all necessary legal actions to see that the rule of law is upheld and this challenge to our Kansas system of government is reined in,” it reads.

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