Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Friday proposed an amendment to her budget that she said will allow the state to draw nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus funds and avoid deep cuts in education and social services.
“Budget cuts deeper than what I have already recommended are not necessary, and would, in fact, do great harm to our state’s economy and employment levels,” Sebelius said.
Sebelius and lawmakers have been tussling all session over ways to reduce the budget in light of the national recession that has dropped state tax receipts.
Last week, Sebelius signed off on a $300 million deficit reduction package, and budget experts have said the state faces another shortfall in the next fiscal year starting July 1 that could reach $1 billion.
State agencies have been told to plan for further cuts in the range of 10 percent to 19 percent.
But since then, President Barack Obama and Congress have passed the $787 billion federal stimulus package. Over the past week, agency chiefs have been briefing legislators on how much Kansas will get under the deal, and Sebelius’ budget amendment represents the first attempt by her office to incorporate the federal monies into her budget request.
Sebelius urged the Legislature to:
• Maintain funding for public schools at the current level and restore higher education funding to last year’s level. That will allow the state to access $367 million in recovery funds to stabilize these areas, she said.
Under this proposal, base state aid per pupil in public schools would be at $4,400 for the next two years.
• Prevent cuts to special education, which will allow the state to gain $107 million in recovery funds.
• Maintain current Medicaid eligibility standards, which will provide the state with $430 million. Sebelius called for an increase in the eligibility for HealthWave, which she said will allow 8,000 more children to receive health coverage.
• Prevent cuts to public safety or other government services for access to $81 million.
Sebelius said that combined with her proposed budget cuts in other areas, the plan will balance the budget without a tax increase.
Republican legislative leaders were also analyzing the impact of the federal stimulus.
Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said in some areas the state, facing tax shortfalls, will somehow have to come up with more money to gain the federal funds. “We’re grateful to get the money, but some of the strings, we could’ve done without,” Morris said.
Some legislators have cautioned that at some point the federal tap of funds will run dry, and then the state will have to make up the increased spending levels.
But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the federal stimulus will prevent deep cuts to higher education.
Referring to a recommended 13 percent higher education cut approved by the Senate budget committee, Hensley said, “I would hope we would abandon the continuation of those discussions.”