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Archive for Thursday, August 15, 2002

Graves likely to outline plan today

August 15, 2002

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Public schools and state universities could find their budgets on the chopping block today when Gov. Bill Graves announces new state spending cuts.

"The message we have been getting is that some type of cut is going to be inevitable," said Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards. "When K through 12 is half the general fund, we believe it would not be possible for the governor to make significant reductions in state spending and exempt schools."

At a 1 p.m. news conference , Graves is expected to outline budget cuts he will make in response to slumping state tax revenue.

The governor has warned of cuts for months. Despite a nearly $300 million tax increase that went into effect July 1, state tax collections continue to fall below expectations, shrinking reserves to less than 1 percent of the state general fund.

Under state law, Graves can enact budget cuts to shore up those reserves. On Tuesday, the state was told its bond rating could be downgraded if the state's budget situation fails to improve.

Graves has said all agencies need to prepare for reductions.

Lawrence school Supt. Randy Weseman and officials at Kansas University said they expected to be hit with further reductions but had not been given any indication how deep the cuts would be.

Sen. Stephen Morris, R-Hugoton, chairman of the Senate budget-writing committee, said Graves had been considering a 3 percent cut to the state budget. For the Department of Education, that would mean a cut of about $70 million. That translates to a $100 decrease in base aid per pupil, currently $3,890.

"We're pretty nervous about this," said Dale Dennis, deputy education commissioner. "Every school district budget that we work, we ask them, 'How much can you handle without hurting kids?'"

Tallman said the state's 303 school districts had already set their budgets for the year. Because of contractual obligations, boards cannot simply fire teachers at the start of the year. That means cuts must be made in classified staff, food service, transportation, after-school programs, athletics and other extracurricular activities. In the Lawrence district, many of those cuts already have been made.

"The frustration is that they have gone all summer knowing to expect something would be cut, but not knowing how much or when," Tallman said.

Legislators added $20 to the base state aid during the 2002 session, but Tallman said most administrators were not counting that increase when calculating budgets for the school year.

"What this really means is the brunt of the cuts will affect students," he said.

All agencies but the Legislature and judicial branch are subject to reductions. Cuts to the other agencies, by law, do not have to be even across the board.

At Kansas University, a 3 percent cut would amount to a cut of about $4 million.

Lindy Eakin, a KU vice provost, said deans and department heads had been warned to prepare for a 3 to 5 percent cut.

"We haven't had a clue what the numbers would be," he said. "Obviously we're not happy with 3 percent, but considering the circumstances it's better than 5."

The last time a governor used the process of allotting state revenues occurred in November 1982, during Gov. John Carlin's administration. However, the action was rescinded when legislators approved a severance tax on oil and mineral production the next spring.

Morris said that while state tax collections continued to fall below projections, the drop-off might not be as steep as expected as late as three weeks ago.

"That may temper what the governor does," he said.

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