SRS director concerned about effect of budget cuts on vulnerable Kansans

? Vulnerable Kansans could lose their assistance and progress in public school achievement would be dealt a setback if the Legislature instituted across-the-board cuts, officials said Thursday.

The testimony came as Republican legislative leaders consider across-the-board cuts, which they say are needed because the state’s tax revenue problems are getting worse.

Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Don Jordan said a 5 percent across-the-board cut in the present fiscal year would result in 1,040 low-income Kansans with development disabilities losing home- and community-based services.

Jordan said he expects SRS will have to sustain some cuts, but he said targeted spending reductions rather than across-the-board cuts would be better.

“We need to make smart decisions,” he told the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Lawmakers are looking at an immediate budget shortfall of $186 million, and a possible deficit of nearly $1 billion in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, has proposed a mixture of budget cuts, delays on implementation of tax cuts and diversion of funds that normally go to local governments.

But Republicans, who dominate the Legislature, don’t like the plan, saying that the cuts aren’t deep enough to fill the budget hole, and that many of Sebelius’ proposals would force local tax increases.

Public school funding, which makes up 52 percent of state spending, was spared large cuts under Sebelius’ proposal, but Republicans say more can be taken from school funding without hurting classroom instruction.

Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, and other education advocates, however, said an across-the-board cut to public education will stop the progress the state has made in boosting academic achievement. Much of the work of schools is mandated by federal and state laws, Tallman added.

But state Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, said, “The fact remains that we have to cut the budget this year and next.”

He challenged Tallman to name another area in the budget that should be cut instead of public schools. Tallman said the Legislature should consider a tax increase to help bridge the shortfall.