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Archive for Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Forecasters meet to write new revenue estimates

April 20, 2004

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— Officials and university economists worked Tuesday on a new financial forecast for state government, a day after Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a $10.2 billion budget.

Legislative researchers, three university professors, top Department of Revenue officials and members of Sebelius' budget staff were drafting projections for general revenue collections during the fiscal year that begins July 1. The budget Sebelius signed Monday is based on projections made in November.

If the new forecast is more optimistic than the current one, legislators can give state agencies more spending authority for the next fiscal year. If the new forecast is gloomier, legislators will have to reopen the budget debate to trim spending. However, participants in the meeting said beforehand they do not expect the forecast to change dramatically.

The budget Sebelius signed for the next fiscal year trims state spending by three-tenths of 1 percent from the current fiscal year and leaves the state with $110 million in its treasury on June 30, 2005.

But it will not be the final word on spending in the upcoming fiscal year. Legislators return to Topeka on April 28 for their annual wrap-up session and, among other things, will consider a final budget cleanup bill correcting any mistakes and addressing last-minute spending issues.

Still awaiting a legislative decision is whether to increase state aid for elementary and secondary education. The budget signed by Sebelius on Monday leaves aid to school districts unchanged at $3,863 per pupil.

Sebelius and the Legislature agreed on most items in the new budget but disagreed on the need for printed telephone directories for state government.

The governor eliminated the directories last year to save $45,000 annually, arguing the information was available on the Internet. But legislators this year included language permitting the Department of Administration to resume printing the booklets and to charge a fee to cover the cost.

Sebelius struck the provision, writing in her veto message that "agencies will still have to pay for hard copies through the new fee."

Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, said later that state workers waste time trying to access the directory by computer and that many simply use outdated books.

"There is a need for a new directory -- virtually everyone knows that," Kerr said. He added, however, that the issue probably was not important enough for legislators to try to override the veto.

Sebelius also used the line-item veto to strike provisions to:

-- Require the Department of Administration to provide paper copies of questionnaires and reports at the request of government employees who receive health insurance coverage from the state. The information is available now through the Internet, and Sebelius said requiring paper copies would increase costs.

-- Direct the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to seek as much federal money as possible for retraining injured workers. Because the federal government requires the state to provide a matching amount, Sebelius noted, the provision would have required SRS to divert $500,000 from other programs.

-- Capture savings in teacher pension costs. The amount listed was incorrect, Sebelius said.

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