Topeka Legislators received a mixed assessment of the state's financial picture Monday as they worked on the final version of a $9.1 billion spending bill.
Senators and House members resumed negotiations Monday on the bill, which contains the bulk of the budget for the 2002 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Preliminary revenue figures for March showed the state took in nearly $311 million, or about $7.5 million more than expected, during the month, Budget Director Duane Goossen said.
That marked a turnaround from December through March, when revenues were $49.6 million below expectations.
But March still brought cause for concern. Sales tax revenues trailed expectations by more than $22 million in March, according to Goossen, indicating softer-than-expected retail sales a possible signal of a slowing economy.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steve Morris suggested the numbers reflected concerns about a volatile stock market and consumers' struggles to pay high heating bills this winter.
"I would rather have the news that it was $7.5 million up and not have the negative on the sales tax," said Morris, R-Hugoton.
Goossen is worried about the gap between sales tax estimates and collections because state officials and university economists meet Wednesday to draft new revenue estimates.
Those estimates will cover the rest of fiscal 2001 and all of fiscal 2002, and legislators plan to use them in budget decisions.
Goossen, who helps draft the revenue estimates, said sales tax collections will be on estimators' minds.
"It could bring down the new revenue estimates," Goossen said.
Both chambers of the Legislature have passed bills authorizing about the same level of spending in fiscal 2002 as in 2001, but the two versions differed in dozens of ways.
The biggest differences were over state employee pay raises, pensions for retired government workers and how to spend Kansas Lottery revenues and tobacco settlement funds.
While the House approved spending than $40 million from the state's share of the national tobacco settlement, the Senate did not address the issue.
Senators appropriated $47 million in Kansas Lottery revenues. The House made no decision on how to spend those funds.
Morris predicted the negotiators would not decide how to spend any money from the two sources.
The bill on which negotiators are working won't be the last word on the fiscal 2002 budget.
Democrats have said spending issues are at a standoff, which probably won't be resolved until April 25.
The Legislature plans to begin its traditional spring break Saturday and will take up one last spending bill when lawmakers return to the Capitol on April 25 to finish their work for the year.