TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer named a veteran state lawmaker as his new budget director Friday, making another overture to a Legislature that had a rocky relationship with his predecessor while elevating the old budget director to a new job of chief operating officer.
The new Republican governor’s chief budget officer is GOP state Rep. Larry Campbell, of Olathe. Campbell is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and chairman of a special committee on education funding — a background likely to help as Colyer and lawmakers respond to a Kansas Supreme Court mandate to boost spending on public schools.
Colyer moved quickly, having been sworn in Wednesday when former GOP Gov. Sam Brownback resigned to take an ambassador’s post. Colyer was Brownback’s lieutenant governor for seven years but has made a point of appearing more open and approachable.
Brownback’s relationship with the GOP-controlled Legislature grew testier as the state’s budget problems persisted following income tax cuts he championed in 2012 and 2013, and lawmakers rolled back most of the cuts last year. His budget director, Shawn Sullivan, increasingly faced sharp, skeptical questions in meetings with lawmakers.
“We’re going to be more collaborative, and this is part of it,” said Colyer spokesman Kendall Marr.
Still, Sullivan will remain a key adviser to Colyer in his new job of chief operating officer, handling big budget and policy issues that involve multiple agencies. At least a handful of other states have such positions, including Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon and Tennessee.
Marr said the goal is “to run this place more like a business.”
But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, described Campbell’s appointment as “a political ploy” to help distance Colyer from the unpopular Brownback.
“Changing the chairs around the deck of the Titanic, putting different people in those chairs, doesn’t change it,” added House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat.
Campbell, a 62-year-old former banker, has served 13 years in the House. He is a former Olathe mayor and current member of its City Council, a position he plans to keep.
He said he expects to start as budget officer Monday.
As chairman of the House’s education funding committee, Campbell played a key role in drafting a new formula for determining how the state distributes more than $4 billion a year in aid to its 286 school districts. The school finance law also increased spending, but in October, the Supreme Court ruled that the higher amount wasn’t sufficient under the state constitution.
Campbell said during an interview that he has great respect for legislators and, “I hope I’ve built good trust.”
House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a fellow Olathe Republican, said lawmakers have confidence in Campbell’s abilities.
“Now he can help us with long-term solutions,” Ryckman said.
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