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Archive for Thursday, May 8, 2008

Final spending bill approved

May 8, 2008

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— Legislators approved a version of the year's final spending bill Wednesday night preserving a project critics call "the road to nowhere."

The Senate's vote was 23-11. The House passed the measure, 73-49, sending it to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Soon afterward, legislators ended their session on its 90th day, with only a brief adjournment ceremony set for May 29.

A big issue has been $750,000 for road improvements outside the soon-to-close Parsons Army Ammunition Plant. Local official want to turn the plant into an industrial park and view the road project as vital.

Many House members had derided it as a pet project for Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dwayne Umbarger, a Thayer Republican, because it's in his district. Even a few senators objected.

The Parsons project was one of several issues that had threatened to prevent an agreement on the spending bill. It remained a contentious issue Wednesday night, consuming much of the Senate's two-hour debate.

"We do have a bunch of pork in this bill," said Sen. Janis Lee, a Kensington Democrat. "It seems to me we don't have our priorities very straight."

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius already has signed most of the next state budget into law, and the bill before legislators would add about $33 million. Overall spending would increase $391 million, or about 3 percent, during the next fiscal year.

Most state employees would receive a 2.5 percent pay raise and many retired teachers and government workers would receive an additional $300 payment.

Legislators finished work on legislation rewriting tax laws, although they didn't expect their bill to result in a net reduction of revenues for the state.

The biggest change would drop the state's top corporate income tax rate from 7.35 percent to 7 percent over four years. That change would be offset by other provisions designed to collect more money from out-of-state corporations.

The Senate approved the tax bill, 35-0, and the House passed it, 109-14, sending it to Sebelius.

The debate over the budget was contentious because House members attacked individual projects as wasteful spending, including the one outside Parsons.

But Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, defended the project for Parsons, saying the state committed to helping that community when the military decided to close the plant.

"Up until this point in time, we haven't put in one penny," he said.

Senate leaders argued the real issue was the overall amount of spending. House members' version of the budget bill would have added $86 million, while senators' version merely shifted money around, without increasing the overall budget.

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