Archive for Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Kansans nervously await new budget tonight

January 15, 2003


— Needy Kansans hit by budget cuts are anxiously awaiting Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' budget proposal to see if she will come up with a plan to restore funding for those programs.

"Some of those cuts were so onerous that something needs to be done," said Gina McDonald, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Association of Centers for Independent Living.

Today, Sebelius will unveil a budget and deliver her first State of the State address. She has given no indication what she will propose and say.

But advocates for the disabled are not hopeful, fearing that Sebelius' campaign promise to defend funding to public schools and higher education will prevent her from helping programs for the elderly, disabled and children.

Bob Harder, a former secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, said much of Sebelius' campaign was focused on education.

"Very little discussion was made on social services," he said.

Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, said if Sebelius kept her campaign promises to protect various areas of the budget from cuts "she will have to come down very hard on social services."

Programs run by the SRS have already been hit hard.

Facing inadequate tax revenues, outgoing Gov. Bill Graves sliced $26 million in state funds in November from the agency. The total cut reached $49 million because the loss of state funds dried up matching federal funds.

The cuts have affected nearly every kind of social service, slicing funds for programs for the elderly, disabled, mentally ill and children.

"These aren't wants, these are needs," Harder said.

Tom Laing, executive director of Interhab, an association that represents community programs for the developmentally disabled, said he met with members of Sebelius' team but has not been given any indication what Sebelius will do about social service funding.

"I expect a signal Wednesday, good or bad," Laing said.

Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran-Basso said she didn't know if social service cuts would be addressed by the governor in her budget or address to the Legislature.

Laing said cuts have been crippling.

"We've been devastated by inattention for eight years. To be knocked back into the last century has a demoralizing effect on providers and families already strapped trying to make ends meet," he said.

Interhab has a pending lawsuit against the state, alleging inadequate funding.

Social service advocates are calling for tax increases in order to provide more revenue, saying they don't want to pit funding of public schools or other areas of the budget against one another.

Sebelius' State of the State address will be broadcast on public television and Kansas Public Radio, starting at 7 p.m. Senate President Dave Kerr of Hutchinson will follow the address with the Republican response.

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