Topeka As legislators worked on the final version of a $9.1 billion spending bill, Gov. Bill Graves said he wasn't quite as worried about Kansas' financial picture as he had been earlier this year.
Graves wouldn't say he's optimistic about the budget just not as pessimistic as he was in January and February, when he and legislators learned the state was taking in less revenue than expected.
While Graves spoke at a news conference, Senate and House negotiators labored over a bill containing most of the budget for the 2002 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Both chambers have passed budget bills that spend almost as much money in fiscal 2002 as in fiscal 2001. However, there were dozens of large and small differences between the two.
Negotiators spent most of their time on the small differences and plan to meet again Monday.
"Obviously, the easy stuff is gone," said House Appropriations Chairman Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing. "We're starting to get to the meat and potatoes."
Next week will be crucial in the budget debate. State officials and university economists plan to meet Wednesday to draft new revenue estimates for fiscal 2002, and lawmakers will base spending decisions on them.
Revenue collections in December and January fell $47.6 million short of estimates issued in November. In February, collections were $2 million short which many legislators took as relatively good news.
"I'd love in March to make back a few of the dollars," Graves told reporters.
But Wilk said "the numbers can't be good enough" to make budget decisions easier.
"I have no illusions," he said. "Our work through the end of April is going to be tough."
Legislators expect to approve the budget before taking their annual spring break on April 7. They will consider one last spending bill after returning April 25 to wrap up their work for the year.
On Friday, negotiators didn't get to tough issues about pay raises for state government workers, pension benefits for government retirees, or how to spend Kansas Lottery revenues.
But they did make progress.
For example, House members agreed to accept a Senate proposal to spend $30,000 to create a cultural heritage center within the Department of Education, and senators accepted the House's lesser funding of $8,500 for Kansas Water Office meetings in western Kansas on the Ogallala Aquifer.
"We've probably come to agreement on three quarters of the items," said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.