Archive for Saturday, April 2, 2005

With numbers in dispute, budget goes to Sebelius

April 2, 2005


— Backed by improved state revenue projections, Republicans pushed an $11.3 billion budget through the Legislature on Friday, sending it to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

The spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 meets Republican leaders' goal of providing additional money to public schools without increasing state taxes. The measure provides an additional $125 million for education, using existing revenues and cash reserves.

The Senate approved the proposed budget on a 26-13 vote Friday, a day after the House passed it, 81-42. Legislative negotiators drafted the final version, settling dozens of differences between the two chambers.

Republicans have faced repeated criticism from Sebelius and her fellow Democrats for trying to increase aid to schools without raising taxes or tapping other sources of new revenue, such as expanded gambling. Democrats have said doing so will create major budget problems in the future, citing projections showing the state would face a budget shortfall next year.

But GOP leaders presented new budget projections this week, suggesting there'd be no shortfall at least until 2008. Their figures were more optimistic in forecasting state revenues into the future.

"Those assumptions were made on the basis of the economy continuing to grow at its current rate," said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer.

But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, called the GOP's figures "hocus-pocus."

"It's very appropriate this is being done on April Fool's Day," he said.

The budget approved Friday increases overall spending $433 million, or 4 percent, during the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Besides increasing spending on schools, many of the budget's new dollars would cover rising costs associated with medical services for the poor and disabled.

The measure also would increase state workers' pay 1.25 percent in June, with an additional 1.25 percent boost in December. Sebelius had sought a 2.5 percent increase starting in June.

However, under all scenarios, the budget would reduce the state's cash reserves. The debate was over how quickly and how much revenues would grow in the future.

"We'll find ways to make things work," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.