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Archive for Thursday, February 1, 1990

AREA LAWMAKERS DIVIDED ON RESTORING WELFARE CUTS

February 1, 1990

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Area lawmakers are as divided about the past as they are on the future when it comes to decisions about how to finance state welfare programs.

The House of Representatives was expected to begin debate today on a $13.9 million bill to restore funding to a number of welfare programs that Gov. Mike Hayden's administration either has cut or has been trying to cut since the beginning of the year.

The bill would keep alive three programs until May 1, delay cuts in another program until May 1 and guarantee an increase in spending for yet another program.

The Senate has already passed the bill, but it is unknown whether Hayden intends to veto all or part of the bill if it reaches his desk.

Rep. David Miller, R-Eudora, objects strongly to the funding mechanism in the bill, which uses money already appropriated from the state's general fund for planning and construction of a new maximum-security prison. The money for the prison would then be replaced by issuing bonds.

"WHAT IT means is an effort to spend money to finance for four months a shortfall in the welfare budget is going to result in 15 years of long-term debt that about doubles the actual cost," he said.

"The other part, it doesn't do anything for '91, which is where the problem is," he added. "'91 is in bad shape."

Other Douglas County representatives said they also prefer not to have to increase the state's bonded indebtedness to fund welfare programs. But they also said that because the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the state are at stake, they have no choice but to support the bill.

Reps. John Solbach, Jessie Branson and Betty Jo Charlton, all Lawrence Democrats, each said they would like to come up with another funding mechanism for welfare programs in the next fiscal year. They also said using prison construction funds offered lawmakers one of few options available to keep programs going this year.

THEY ALSO said cutting the programs is short-sighted, and future legislators would have to deal with more expensive social problems if welfare programs were eliminated.

Charlton seemed torn by her decison.

"I'm not in favor of further bonded indebtedness," she said. "It presents me with a dilemma.

"I agree with David (Miller) on bond financing, but sometimes we have to make very tough choices," she added. "Sick and hungry kids are not likely to grow up to be healthy, independent, tax-paying citizens without some help."

THE BILL to be debated by the House includes the following spending measures:

$4.7 million to continue MediKan, a medical program for the poor.

$3.8 million to continue the General Assistance cash grants program for the poor.

$2.88 million to delay a $9 per month per person cut in Aid to Families with Dependent Children payments.

$1.69 million to increase state payments to foster parents and foster homes. This increase was approved by the 1989 Legislature, then canceled by the Hayden administration.

$840,000 to keep alive the Attendant Care for Independent Living (ACIL) program, which serves handicapped Kansans.

MILLER HAD proposed restoration of part of the proposed cuts MediKan and ACIL through a 10-cent increase in the state tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products. He said both the medical programs are very important, and his financing method would not only fund them for the rest of this year, but also in 1991.

Miller also said that he does not feel General Assistance is a critical program, and that the state's level of AFDC support is already higher than a lot of other states'.

Mrs. Branson, Solbach and Charlton all pointed to restoration of income tax cuts in upper income tax brackets made by the Legislature last year as a 1991 funding mechanism for the welfare programs that are under attack this year. The income tax cuts were made to give back the so-called "windfall" gained by the state becasue of changes in federal tax laws.

"THAT'S $70 million dedicated to upper-bracket tax relief," Solbach said.

But Miller said return of the windfall was necessary, and he objects to any plan to reverse the income tax cut made last year.

"It's what we promised the people we'd do," he said.

Solbach also said the Hayden administration's use of money from the state's general fund to fund a highway improvement program is part of the reason not enough money is left in the general fund for welfare programs.

Charlton said restoring the higher-bracket income taxes would not be enough to fund the welfare cuts, the Margin of Excellence for regents institutions and property tax relief. But she said a combinaton of revenue measures could accomplish those objectives.

"Maybe a combination of cigarette taxes, a more progressive income tax and repeal of some sales tax exemptions," she suggested.

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