Topeka The Kansas Senate on Friday approved a $4.4 billion budget that keeps state spending on public schools, higher education and social services essentially flat and requires more than $300 million in new revenue.
During the same vote on a batch of bills, the Senate also approved legislation giving wealthy investors tax breaks that will cost the state $20 million in general revenue over a 10-year period.
Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, voted for both pieces of legislation, saying the 21-19 approval of the budget kept the process moving toward reaching agreement on a spending and tax package amid a $777 million revenue shortfall.
And, he said, the 25-15 approval of the bill that provides state tax breaks to wealthy investors is needed to provide venture capital in Kansas companies.
"Part of how we build our economy is in enticing people to invest in our economy," Kerr said.
He said Kansas has lost many well-paying jobs and vibrant companies that have had to relocate to other states to secure capital. He said the tax breaks do not affect the state's general revenue fund until 2006.
But some disagreed. Senate Democratic leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said the juxtaposition of the flat budget and tax breaks for the wealthy was ridiculous.
"This is a classic example of giving too much to those who have no need," Hensley said.
Public schools, higher education and social services have complained that a no-increase budget was really a cut because of increased costs.
But at least in the area of public school finance, Kerr said senators today will vote on whether to increase funding by $12 million an increase of less than one-half of 1 percent which would bring the base state aid per pupil to $3,890 from $3,870. If approved, the increased spending would be included in the Legislature's final, budget clean-up bill.
Kerr said the proposal to quickly vote on an increase for public schools helped him get enough votes to pass the budget to Gov. Graves' desk. The House had approved the same spending plan on Thursday by a 63-61 vote.
Today, the House will start voting on tax increases to bridge the gap between proposed spending and revenue.
Kerr said a tax increase would be needed to balance the budget and provide an increase to schools.
Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, voted for the budget and the venture capital bills.
She said if the budget had failed "my fear was that it could end up being worse."
She said she is confident that additional funds can be found for public schools. On the venture capital legislation, Praeger agreed with Kerr.
"Kansas loses opportunities because we have no venture capital planning for the future," she said.