All but four members of the Kansas Senate voted early Sunday morning on a budget that cuts funding to the Department of Corrections by $7.3 million and reduces the budget for the judicial branch by $5.4 million. Three Senators were out of state while one, Senate Vice President Jeff King, went missing in action.
“On the last bill of the session when the vote was gridlocked at 20 to 16, it was hard to believe that a key member of Senate Republican leadership would go missing,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley. “There’s no doubt in my mind that King purposely avoided voting on a budget that would cut judiciary funding when just a few short weeks ago he was accused of threatening similar cuts in exchange for support on changes to judicial selection.”
A request for a call of the Senate was made while attempting to locate King. After nearly 20 minutes passed and still no King, Sen. Steve Fitzgerald (R-Leavenworth) gave into pressure from the Senate Majority Leader and changed his vote from “no” to “aye.” The budget, in the form of Senate Bill 171, passed on a vote of 21-15.
“Sen. King got someone else to do his dirty work,” said Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City), who serves as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I wouldn’t blame Sen. Fitzgerald for being angry because of King’s maneuver. He’s in his first year, and represents a district that includes Lansing State Penitentiary. He was forced to go against his personal convictions and those of his constituents to support a budget that makes significant cuts to the Department of Corrections. Meanwhile Sen. King, who is also the chairman of the Judiciary committee, avoided a vote to cut public safety by $7.5 million, which would make him look soft on crime.”
As it has been reported in the news media, King was in the building with Governor Brownback at the time of the vote. Moments after the vote closed, King reappeared in the Senate chamber to introduce his staff and to thank the Senate Secretary and her staff for their work during the session.
“I’ve never seen anyone in Senate leadership avoid casting a vote on the budget, especially when that vote was needed to pass the budget and adjourn the session,” said Hensley. “Jeff King should be ashamed of himself for his absence which resulted in forcing one of his colleagues to vote for a budget he didn’t support. Regardless of his reasons, this is inexcusable behavior for a person in King’s leadership position.”