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Archive for Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Negotiators reach deal on state budget deficit reduction legislation

February 11, 2009, 10:15 a.m. Updated February 11, 2009, 11:01 p.m.

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— The Legislature's top two leaders ended an impasse Wednesday over social services spending and cleared the way for final action on a bill balancing the state budget.

Both chambers planned to vote Thursday on the compromise brokered by Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, and House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican. Approval in both chambers would send the bill to Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

The measure makes $324 million in adjustments in the budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, to close a deficit currently estimated at $199 million.

Among the adjustments are a $28 million cut in state aid to public schools and selected reductions throughout state government.

The final haggling involved additional funding for in-home services for the disabled, to shorten a waiting list for the services. The House had included an additional $8 million, but the Senate proposed no additional spending. The compromise includes an extra $2 million.

"We need to get on down the road, so, yes, we can live with it," said Republican Sen. Jay Emler of Lindsborg, the lead Senate negotiator.

The compromise resolves numerous differences in the two chambers' versions of the bill.

If the final version passes, Sebelius can sign it, veto it entirely or strike individual provisions. Like other Democrats, she had hoped to protect the state's 295 school districts from losing expected state aid as the school year winds down.

"The governor remains concerned about cuts this deep into education," said Sebelius spokeswoman Beth Martino. "She will do a thorough review of the bill and act quickly once it actually reaches her desk."

Slightly less than half the budget adjustments consist of cuts in spending, with the rest resulting from accounting changes and refinancing state bonds. One big accounting change takes advantage of a surplus in funds set aside in the past for state workers' health insurance claims and disability benefits, diverting $72 million of those dollars to general government programs.

Public school aid has been a key issue because, at $3.79 billion, it consumes half of the state's general tax revenues. Sebelius proposed no overall cut, but her recommendations would have forced the state to redistribute some dollars because of shifting costs among school districts.

The Senate approved a $7 million cut in school aid, while the House voted for a $32 million reduction. House Republicans who backed the larger cut and accepted the final compromise of $28 million said it is necessary to avoid deeper reductions in other parts of the budget.

"I don't know that the schools are taking their share, but it's a reasonable compromise," O'Neal said.

But Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat and one of her chamber's negotiators, predicted the proposed cut will be a problem for some senators.

And Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said, "We would be happier if there was more of a middle ground."

Kelly also said some senators were unhappy that a bill intended to close a deficit includes higher funding for some programs. Besides the extra money for in-home services, the measure adds nearly $3 million to bolster a program for training doctors in Wichita.

"There are a lot of people who have some heartburn that we added expenditures in a rescission bill," Kelly said.

Senate negotiators questioned whether the state could sustain the new spending on in-home services for the disabled during the fiscal year that begins July 1. House negotiators said the state has an obligation to help vulnerable citizens.

The issue became contentious enough that budget talks broke off Monday. Morris and O'Neal then intervened, which is not unusual when budget negotiations become sticky.

"The chiefs got together and worked out a minor difference we had," Emler said. "We're all friends now."

Comments

spankyandcranky 5 years, 7 months ago

Let's get-r-done, already. I want to know exactly how much each area of the budget is loosing.

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