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Archive for Friday, April 6, 2001

Budget bill OK’d despite state’s money shortage

April 6, 2001

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— Legislators on Thursday sent an incomplete budget that the state cannot afford to Gov. Bill Graves and began scrambling to find ways to balance spending and revenues.

On a 22-17 vote, the Senate approved a compromise $9.11 billion spending bill that contains most of the budget for fiscal 2002, which begins July 1.

The House had passed the measure Wednesday, just hours before revenue forecasters slashed their estimates of tax receipts for fiscal 2001 and 2002 and predicted a $185 million gap between likely revenue and the spending approved in the compromise bill.

Now, legislators must cut some appropriations they have already approved, raise taxes, find new sources of money, or produce some combination of all three. Some were prepared to reduce appropriations, while others put staffers to work researching possible tax increases.

"In essence, it's like starting over," said House Appropriations Chairman Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing.

Legislators plan to start their annual spring break Saturday and reconvene April 25 to complete the year's business and consider one last budget bill.

"We would like to avoid across-the-board cuts," said Rep. Rocky Nichols, D-Topeka. "Those are clumsy and lazy cuts."

Graves proposed and the bill sent to him Thursday contemplates spending more than $4.66 billion from the state general fund, which holds most of the state's tax revenues and is the largest source of money for government programs.

The increase would be $230 million, or 5.2 percent.

But without increasing taxes or raiding other funds, the state would be able to increase its spending by $45 million or only 1 percent.

The fact that general fund appropriations still would be greater than in fiscal 2001 has some legislators, particularly conservative Republicans, looking for savings.

"It's a cut in the increase, not a cut in spending," said Rep. Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, and Appropriations Committee member.

But some legislators want to increase spending on public schools, and the state is obligated to keep up with the demand for some social services. Graves also proposed a 3 percent pay raise for government workers.

The pressure for new spending has some legislators looking for ways to raise money.

"The Legislature is still in shock," Nichols said. "It'll take a few days before some of the ideas are narrowed down."

In the Senate, Democrats are mulling a proposal to repeal a 1997 tax cut on the estates passed onto "strangers in blood," such as nieces and nephews, to raise $28 million.

Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, was researching proposals to increase income taxes on families with incomes above $120,000, to raise as much as $60 million.

And Hensley and other senators believe the state's budget situation makes a proposal to legalize slot machines at dog and horse racing tracks more attractive.

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