Archive for Thursday, March 18, 2004

Budget plan advances without school, transportation solutions

$10.2 billion proposal goes to full House

March 18, 2004


— A House panel endorsed a $10.2 billion budget Wednesday that holds overall state spending flat in the next fiscal year and follows many of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' proposals.

The Appropriations Committee's plan does not resolve the two biggest issues in the budget year that starts July 1 -- how much to increase aid to public schools and how to shore up the state's comprehensive transportation program.

Legislative leaders expect those matters to be settled just before lawmakers end their session in early May.

The Appropriations Committee's proposed budget dealt with dozens of smaller spending issues, exceeding Sebelius' recommendations by only $1.5 million and leaving about $107 million in cash reserves when the next fiscal year ends in June 2005.

"It's ugly but workable," said committee Chairman Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls.

Rep. Joe Shriver, D-Arkansas City, predicted that the House would generally be satisfied with the budget, which the committee approved on a voice vote. House debate is expected next week.

"I don't expect a lot of changes on the floor, other than members wanting special projects for their areas," Shriver said.

The committee endorsed Sebelius' proposal to give state workers a 3 percent pay raise, and its recommendations on higher education and social services spending are close to Sebelius' proposals.

However, the committee differed with Sebelius on one of her major initiatives, funding for Smart Start programs, which provide parent education, day care and other services in 19 counties to families with children age 5 or under.

Sebelius sought to add $6.8 million to the existing $3.2 million for Smart Start. The committee's budget added $4.3 million, then set aside $2 million for a program that helps keep troubled families intact and $500,000 for children's mental health services.

The committee's proposed budget also would allow Kansas courts to hire 27 new employees, including a district judge in Douglas County and one magistrate each in Dickinson, McPherson and Reno counties.

However, the committee assumed the Kansas Supreme Court would renew surcharges on court fees -- first imposed in 2002 -- to help pay for judicial operations. One surcharge increased the cost of a marriage license from $50 to $75.

Meanwhile, the Senate Ways and Means Committee planned to vote Friday on a proposed $10.1 billion budget for next fiscal year.

The Senate panel did not include any pay increases for state workers, preferring to deal with the issue later. Senators also put off decisions on school and transportation funding until the end of the session.

House panel's budget is HB 2900.

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