Nearly two weeks into the 2009 legislative session, work on fixing the ailing state budget has run aground.
The House Appropriations Committee canceled its meeting for today, and the Senate Ways and Means Committee has been hung up for a week over what to do about public school funding.
“The reality of solving this problem is not pleasant,” Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said Thursday.
Because of lower-than-expected tax revenues, lawmakers are facing a $186 million deficit in the current fiscal year, which could grow to $1 billion in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, has proposed a balanced budget that relies on targeted cuts, including a 7 percent cut to higher education, shorting funds intended for local governments, and a number of other measures.
But Republicans leaders, who are armed with significant majorities in the Legislature, say Sebelius’ proposal doesn’t fix the problem because the budget situation is worsening.
They say an across the board cut of about $300 million is needed to bridge the immediate shortfall. Getting there, however, means deeper cuts to public schools and other politically popular areas.
Last week, Schmidt sounded confident that the full Senate would be voting this week on an across the board cut. But that won’t happen because even though Senate Republicans hold a 31-9 advantage over Democrats, many Republicans are balking at the prospect of cutting schools further.
Schmidt said his caucus has been “sobered” by the extent of cuts that will be needed.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said so far Republican leaders have tried to pass a budget on their own, but are finding the going hard.
“Apparently, maybe a game plan is unfolding, but I’m not privy to it,” he said. “They’re not bringing Democrats in.”
Meanwhile, ideas are being floated on how to reduce the deficit.
State Rep. Bill Otto, R-LeRoy, said he will introduce a bill to cut the pay of the Legislature and all state employees by 10 percent.
Otto said the savings from his plan will prevent the state from having to lay off employees.
“I don’t want to give out pink slips if we can avoid it,” he said.