House Republicans say consolidation may be necessary for school districts, courts, other agencies

House GOP says no to tax increases, but school consolidation is a possibility

? House Republican leaders Friday ordered the appropriations committee back to work to find ways to reduce state spending in the face of an expected budget shortfall. And they said tax increases will not be considered, but school district consolidation may.

“Government overspending and the unchecked growth in government must be curtailed,” said House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson. “It’s time for serious budget reform in Kansas.”

Added House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, “In this economic climate, tax increases are out of the question.” GOP leaders said the state faces a projected $536 million shortfall in the next fiscal year.

Lawmakers and Gov. Mark Parkinson made four rounds of budget cuts earlier this year that have affected every area of state government, including education, social services and public safety.

So where will the next reductions come from?

A memo by Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, distributed to committee members spells out a number of areas — including the possibility of consolidating school districts, the court system, state agencies and local governments.

Yoder said the Appropriations Committee also will consider proposals to close state facilities, outsource work to private contractors, and make changes to the state pension system.

With state revenues falling, Yoder said structural changes to state government are needed in addition to budget cuts.

“We must endeavor to use this crisis to make government more efficient, less wasteful and more productive,” he said.

The Appropriations Committee will meet Aug. 24-25. Two-day meetings also will be held in September and October and possibly later in the fall. The 2010 legislative session starts in January.

State Rep. Bill Feuerborn, who is the ranking Democrat on the committee, said he hopes Republican leaders weren’t dictating what can be considered.

“I am concerned that there was already a list drawn up with no input from the Democrats,” he said.

He said he welcomed a chance to eliminate duplication in state agencies, and said Democrats wanted to disband the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. for that reason, but Republicans kept the agency alive.

In response to the Republican plan of action, Gov. Parkinson, a Democrat, issued a statement saying state agencies have done a good job in managing significant budget cuts while also providing needed services.

“Going forward, July revenue numbers were encouraging, and at this point, the state budget can be managed without Legislative action,” Parkinson said.

“That being said, I’m always interested in the input and suggestions of our Legislature, and I look forward to seeing the outcome of these meetings and the recommendations that are presented,” he added.