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Archive for Sunday, April 29, 2001

Negotiations begin on final budget bill

Senate, House struggle with differences in strategy

April 29, 2001

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— Legislative budget negotiations began Saturday, and senators and House members weren't sure they were even speaking the same language.

Both chambers have passed bills aimed at closing a $205 million gap between expected revenues and spending already in place for fiscal 2002, which begins July 1.

But dozens of differences, starting with their underlying approaches, separated the House and Senate plans. As they started drafting a final compromise Saturday, members of the conference committee needed two hours just to list the differences.

After a day of work, negotiators had trouble describing their progress.

"Today, we really worked on getting a plan to get a plan," said Sen. David Adkins, R-Leawood. "While that doesn't produce much, it's a lot better than chaos."

Both plans would trim the $4.66 billion in appropriations already approved from the state's general fund. Both would also step up collection of delinquent taxes, delay some payments, make accounting changes and tap funds not normally used to pay for general government expenses.

But the Senate version, approved on a 25-15 vote early Saturday, would cut just $33 million in spending while increasing taxes on insurance companies by $10 million.

The House plan, passed Friday by a vote of 82-43, reduces the appropriation $75 million while avoiding tax increases. The House did approve one revenue-raising measure, proposing to bring in $16 million a year by tripling state fines for traffic violations.

However, the differences are deeper than simply numbers or tax policy, negotiators said.

The Senate assumed it would try to finance as much of the budget already approved for fiscal 2002 as possible.

House members built a new budget from scratch, without trying to assess how it compared to what had been passed before.

Saturday was the fourth day legislators returned to the Capitol following their annual spring break and the 89th calendar day of the 2001 session. Lawmakers had hoped to wrap up business within 90 days, but the House and Senate were scheduled to convene Monday, the 91st day.

Neither the House nor the Senate budget bill cleared its own chamber by a sufficient majority to override a veto, which remains a possibility.

Gov. Bill Graves, who last week proposed $117.6 million in tax increases to fix the budget and raise new funds for education, has promised to veto the House version.

"If the compromise looks anything like the House plan, the governor has been very clear in his intent," Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer said Saturday.

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