Sen. Carolyn McGinn will retake the reins of the Kansas Senate’s budget committee after losing that chairmanship four years ago.
McGinn, R-Sedgwick, will chair the Senate Ways and Means Committee in the upcoming session, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, announced Wednesday. The committee oversees the state’s finances, and it will be up to McGinn to shepherd a solution to the state’s budget problems to passage.
Kansas faces a more than $900 million shortfall for the next 18 months.
“It’s not pretty,” McGinn said after a budget briefing with the state’s economists on Wednesday.
McGinn, a farmer who has served in the Senate since 2005, previously chaired the committee under former Senate President Steve Morris. She lost her chairmanship and seat on the committee to Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, after Morris and several other moderate incumbents lost their seats to conservative challengers in 2012.
Masterson, who will hold no chairmanship in the 2017 session, made an unsuccessful attempt to oust Wagle as Senate president earlier this month.
McGinn’s elevation to chairwoman helps solidify the Legislature’s shift in a more centrist direction after moderates ousted several conservative Republican incumbents in the August primaries.
“I think it’s because of my past experience as budget chair. I ran a pretty efficient committee, and I had to make cuts,” McGinn said about Wagle’s rationale for selecting her. She served as budget chairwoman during the recession, when the state had to make massive cuts, something that will be necessary again, she said.
“We’re going to have to cut at least somewhat. ... There’s only one way out to balance,” she said.
A statement from Wagle cited McGinn’s budget-cutting experience: “In addition to successfully passing rescissions, she also guided the committee in 2011 to cut the budget $375 million and continued cuts into the following year.”
McGinn’s selection as budget chairwoman was applauded by Mark Desetti, legislative director of the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. One of McGinn’s biggest tasks will be leading the effort to craft a new school finance formula.
“I think she was an excellent pick,” Desetti said. “She’s even-tempered. I think she’s respected by both Democrats and Republicans. … She’s pragmatic, and she really wants to get this state back on stable footing and back on track to be the great place it can and should be.”
McGinn survived tough re-election challenges in 2012 and 2016. This year, she was targeted with mailers that called her a Democrat in disguise.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, one of the organizations that supported her opponents, did not comment specifically on McGinn’s selection but congratulated all the senators who earned chairmanships.
“We look forward to working with all of them in 2017 on behalf of the business community,” said Eric Stafford, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs, in an e-mail.
‘Scarlet Letter Caucus’
Wagle also restored Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, as public health committee chairwoman. Schmidt, a pharmacist, previously chaired the committee under Morris and was stripped of her chairmanship after the 2012 election.
Schmidt and McGinn repeatedly broke with Republican leadership during the past four years on key votes and would sometimes jokingly refer to themselves as “The Scarlet Letter Caucus” because of their perceived rift with leadership.
Now they will, once again, chair two of the most important committees in the Legislature.
“We were kind of on the bench, and now we’re back in the game,” McGinn said.
In addition to McGinn, several other lawmakers from south-central Kansas will head important committees: Sen. Mike Petersen, R-Wichita, will continue to chair Transportation, and Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, will chair Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Sen. Rick Wilborn, R-McPherson, will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, a committee that is typically chaired by an attorney.
Wilborn has a background in insurance. After the 2016 election, the Kansas Senate will be without any licensed attorneys. The only member of the Senate with a law degree will be Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, who is not licensed to practice law in Kansas.