Archive for Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Sebelius budget proposal contains little for public schools

January 12, 2005


— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius proposed a state budget Tuesday that includes almost no new money for public schools, following through on her promise to stand back and let the Legislature address a mandate from the Kansas Supreme Court to improve education funding.

"So, I'm just saying to the leaders, 'Show me the meat, boys. How are you going to solve this?"' Sebelius said in an interview.

Last week, the Supreme Court gave legislators until April 12 to perform their "constitutional duty" to improve public education, saying that requires spending more money and distributing that money more fairly. But Sebelius' budget keeps funding for public schools at the current $2.7 billion, except for $2.5 million for teacher training and $1 million for a teacher mentoring program.

The Democratic governor's proposed budget concentrates on providing extras for higher education, social services and state employee pay raises. She had previously said the burden of solving education funding problems rests with the Republican-dominated Legislature because of its past inaction.

"I think it's important for the majority party who runs the House and Senate to have a plan that they think meets the Supreme Court challenge, and then we can talk about it," Sebelius said.

Her proposed budget would leave no additional funds for public schools unless legislators wanted to raise taxes or deplete cash reserves further.

"The governor's budget is no help," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence.

Also missing from Sebelius' budget is her $50 million plan to expand state and private health coverage for up to 100,000 uninsured Kansans. Sebelius already has proposed increasing tobacco taxes, including boosting the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 50 cents to $1.29, to pay for it.

Sebelius proposed nearly $11.3 billion in total spending for the state's 2006 fiscal year, which begins July 1, including extra money for higher education, employee salary increases and in-home services for low-income Kansans. Total spending would increase 4.2 percent.

The new spending would be covered by a projected 4 percent growth in state revenues and by consuming $73 million of the state's cash reserves.

Some educators didn't blame Sebelius for refusing to offer an education funding plan. Last year, legislators rejected her proposal to phase in over three years a $310 million increase in annual spending on schools, financed mainly by raising income and sales taxes.

But Keith Custer, superintendent in the Anthony-Harper district, said he was surprised because Sebelius has been a strong supporter of education.

"I would like to see her, as you'd say, lead the charge," he said. "There's got to be somebody out front."

Sebelius' proposals include a 5 percent increase for the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, raising its budget to $2.8 billion.

Much of the $134 million in new money would go to cover rising costs associated with medical services for low-income residents. The state expects more people to use those services and for the services to cost more per person in fiscal 2006.

But Sebelius also would set aside $6.5 million in state funds for services to keep the disabled and frail elderly in their homes, rather than nursing homes. Those dollars would attract federal funds and boost spending on those programs by 6 percent, to more than $386 million.

The governor also proposed a $29 million package for higher education, spreading the money among universities, community colleges and vocational-technical colleges. Her proposals would allow for an average faculty salary increase of 3.4 percent.

Most other state employees would receive a 2.5 percent raise. Kansas Highway Patrol troopers' pay would jump 10 percent, making their salaries more competitive with troopers in other states.

Sebelius' budget also assumes the cost of medical care for prison inmates will jump 53 percent -- $14.2 million -- to $41.2 million. Budget Director Duane Goossen said the state's contract with a private company expires June 30, and rates in a new contract must reflect several years of rising medical costs.

Highlights of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' proposed budget, outlined Tuesday:¢ TOTAL SPENDING: Nearly $11.3 billion for Fiscal Year 2006, which begins July 1. The increase is almost $455 million, or 4.2 percent.¢ CASH RESERVES: The state would have $206 million in cash reserves at the end of fiscal 2006, down from almost $280 million at the end of fiscal 2005.¢ REVENUE GROWTH: The state projects that its general revenues will grow almost 4 percent in fiscal 2006, or by $177 million, to $4.8 billion.¢ NO SCHOOL PLAN: Aid to public schools would remain at its current level, $3,863 per pupil. Sebelius is leaving it to legislators to draft a proposal to meet a Kansas Supreme Court mandate to improve education funding.¢ HEALTH PLAN SEPARATE: Sebelius' $50 million plan to expand health coverage for up to 100,000 uninsured Kansans is not included the budget. She already has proposed increasing tobacco taxes. The cigarette tax would increase 50 cents a pack, to $1.29.¢ HIGHER EDUCATION: Pay raises for university faculty would average 3.4 percent under a $29 million package for higher education. New money also would go to community colleges and vocational-technical schools.¢ SOCIAL SERVICES: The state must spend nearly $35 million to keep up with rising costs associated with providing medical services to low-income and disabled Kansans. An additional $6.5 million would be provided for in-home services designed to keep the disabled and frail elderly out of nursing homes.¢ INMATES' CARE: The Department of Corrections expects the cost of medical services for prison inmates to increase 53 percent, or by $14.2 million, to $41.2 million. The jump would be covered.¢ PAY RAISES: Most state employees outside the universities would receive 2.5 percent pay raises, though Kansas Highway Patrol troopers would see their pay increase 10 percent.¢ PENSIONS: The state would spend an additional $25.4 million to shore up the long-term health of the pension fund for teachers and state workers. Also, the state would provide $12.2 million to prevent a cut in disability benefits for state workers and their families.

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