Archive for Wednesday, April 4, 2001

State budget bill on the table

Legislators negotiate spending with eye on economic concerns

April 4, 2001

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— Legislators prepared to debate a $9.11 billion spending bill against a backdrop of growing concern that a softening economy will hurt state finances.

The bill, a compromise reached by House and Senate negotiators, contains the bulk of the state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 and is about $41 million smaller than the current budget.

However, the bill does not appropriate about $87 million from Kansas Lottery revenues and the state's share of the national tobacco settlement.

The House planned to consider the bill today, followed by the Senate. Also today, state officials and university economists were to meet to draft new estimates of state revenue collections for the rest of fiscal 2001, which ends June 30, and all of fiscal 2002.

Legislators will use the new numbers to finish work on the 2002 budget. They plan to begin a break Saturday, returning April 25 to consider one last budget bill and wrap up their work for the year.

Many legislators expect to have to go back into the budget and trim spending so that it balances with revenues.

"A lot of hard work has gone in on the budget, but my guess is that it's only a starting place," Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer said Tuesday. "I don't see a single sign in the economy that it's going to be as robust."

According to Budget Director Duane Goossen, preliminary revenue figures showed that the state took in nearly $311 million, or about $7.5 million more than expected, during March.

Those numbers marked a turnaround from the picture in 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, indicating softer-than-expected retail sales often a sign of a slowing economy.

"The trend on sales tax is not good," said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steve Morris, R-Hugoton. "It just doesn't look good."

Agreement on the big budget bill came late Monday after the House agreed to accept Gov. Bill Graves' $48.6 million plan to give state workers a 1.5 percent pay raise on June 9 and an extra 1.5 percent raise on Dec. 9. The Senate had endorsed the plan, but the House drafted its own alternative.

The negotiators also agreed to discuss a House plan to give retired government workers an extra benefits check on Oct. 1, but as a part of a separate pensions bill. The extra payment would be worth half of a retiree's normal monthly payment.

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