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Gov. Kelly rejects last-minute funding for historic Quindaro Ruins in Kansas City, Kansas

 The Quindaro Ruins Overlook in Kansas City, Kansas, was dedicated on Juneteenth in 2008.
C.J. Janovy
Kansas Reflector
The Quindaro Ruins Overlook in Kansas City, Kansas, was dedicated on Juneteenth in 2008.

Gov. Laura Kelly shot down a proviso in the state budget bill allocating $250,000 for the Quindaro Ruins Archaeological Park in Kansas City, historically an important stop on the Underground Railroad. One of the site’s top supporters, Kansas City Democrat Rep. Marvin Robinson, broke party lines to help Republicans override Kelly's veto of a transgender athlete ban.

Gov. Laura Kelly struck out several provisions from a wide-ranging budget bill, drawing fire from Legislature Republicans who said her rejection of funding for a historic site reeked of “political punishment.”

Kelly announced the signing of Senate Bill 25 Monday. The 36-page budget bill passed both chambers with bipartisan support, garnering a 91-29 vote in the House and a 29-10 vote in the Senate.

“I am proud of this bipartisan, fiscally responsible budget that will bolster our state’s workforce, improve roads and expand high-speed internet, and provide essential mental health resources for our students,” Kelly said. “This funding will support my administration’s efforts to continue growing the economy and making every Kansas community an attractive place to live and raise a family.”

The budget increases funding for education projects, local infrastructure and includes a pay increase for state employees, though funding for a historical site was removed following criticism that the provision hadn’t been properly discussed.

Quindaro Ruins

Kelly shot down a proviso allocating $250,000 for the Quindaro Ruins Archaeological Park in Kansas City, historically an important stop on the Underground Railroad.

Funding for the site has been a heated topic this legislative session. One of the site’s top supporters, Kansas City Democrat Rep. Marvin Robinson, broke party lines to vote with Republicans on several key issues. Robinson’s vote wasthe deciding factor in overriding Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a transgender athlete ban for K-12 schools and colleges, turning the legislation into law.

Some lawmakers said the last-minute inclusion of the Quindaro budget provision — which was popped into the budget after the transgender athlete vote — was suspicious. Rep. Ford Carr, a Wichita Democrat, said he was uneasy about the appearance of backroom dealing for votes and said he wouldn’t sell his integrity for legislation, among other remarks about the history of slavery during theoriginal budget discussion.

Kelly said she vetoed the Quindaro funding because it was a last-minute addition and hadn’t gone through the proper channels.

“This request for funding for a master plan for the Quindaro Ruins historic site was not considered by the Legislature until the final moments of the 2023 session,” Kelly said. “As a result, there was no opportunity to vet this proposal to ensure that it truly serves the needs of the community for whom the site is named.”

She encouraged site advocates to “work through the proper channels.”

House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, called Kelly’s veto an attempt at punishment.

“Preserving the archeological integrity and educational importance of the Quindaro Ruins should be a bipartisan priority and excluded from the wrath of political punishments,” Hawkins said.

Budget provisions

The budget allocates $120 million in fiscal year 2024 to patch up state employee salaries that are currently below market. State employees getting paid more than 10% below market will receive a 5% raise or enough to reach the 10% under-market level. Individuals with salaries less than 10% below market or less than 10% above market will get a 5% boost.

The provision also provides bonuses for state agency employees working in the Kansas Department of Corrections, state hospitals and Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs, among other departments.

The University of Kansas and Wichita State University will receive $13 million in fiscal year 2024 earmarked for a joint health care project.

County governments will be given $4.7 million in reimbursement for presidential primary costs. The primaries are scheduled for early 2024 and are estimated tocost up to $5 million. Lawmakers voted earlier this legislative session to hold a state-run presidential primary for the first time in years, reasoning it would bolster voter turnout rates.

The budget also provides the Kansas Water Office with $18 million and gives the Kansas Department of Transportation $5 million for short line railroad assistance.

Around $13.5 million is set aside to improve mental health resources for Kansans children and teenagers, earmarked for implementing the Mental Health Intervention Pilot program in schools across the state. Kelly vetoed an original bill provision restricting the type of mental health providers eligible for program participation.

“We cannot leave dedicated, experienced mental health professionals on the sidelines as our students remain in need of care,” Kelly said inher veto explanation.

Another budget provision allocates $5 million to reimburse healthcare providers, law enforcement agencies and counties for mental health patient costs.

The budget also establishes a bipartisan nine-member state committee in charge of allocating local infrastructure funding. The funding, known as the Build Kansas Matching Grant Fund, will match federal dollars given to Kansas community infrastructure projects. The committee will review local government applications for $55 million annually in state matching grant funding. After review, the requests will be forwarded to the federal government for a final decision.

Eligible infrastructure projects will include water, transportation, energy, cybersecurity and high-speed internet plans.

Other vetoes

Along with vetoing budget provisions that would have impacted the Kansas Board of Pharmacy, Kelly vetoed a provision allocating $5 million for independent college grant funding. In her explanation, Kelly said state education dollars should go to public institutions to provide as many Kansas students with higher education as possible.

Hawkins said he was disappointed by the veto.

“It’s disappointing to see the Governor reject reaching across the aisle in an all-hands-on-deck approach to assist all Kansas colleges as they prepare students to join the Kansas job force,” Hawkins said.

This story was originally published by the Kansas Reflector.

Copyright 2023 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Rachel Mipro