Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius promised Tuesday to veto a plan drafted by Senate Republicans for eliminating a deficit in the current state budget after calling their proposed cuts “draconian.”
Asked about a veto of the GOP deficit plan during a Statehouse news conference, the Democratic governor responded: “If it comes to me in this fashion, absolutely.”
The Senate is scheduled to debate the plan at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. It makes $302 million worth of adjustments, mostly by cutting spending, and public schools would lose about $100 million of the state aid they had been promised for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Legislative researchers project the deficit at $186 million, but Republican leaders expect tax revenues to continue to fall short of expectations in the next few months, causing the shortfall to grow.
GOP leaders weren’t impressed by Sebelius’ veto threat. Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican, said the debate would go ahead as scheduled.
Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jay Emler, who drafted the plan up for debate, said, “It doesn’t change anything.”
“We’re doing what we think is right,” said Emler, a Lindsborg Republican. “Her plan simply does not balance.”
Sebelius proposed a grab-bag of targeted spending cuts and accounting changes worth up to $253 million. Her plan avoids a cut in the state’s total aid to public schools and protects most social service programs.
“I was hoping we would have a collaborative process,” Sebelius said. “What I’d rather have is a bill I can sign.”
Republicans hold a 31-9 majority in the Senate and a 76-49 majority in the House. GOP leaders in both chambers generally favor across-the-board spending cuts, an approach Sebelius opposes.
Overriding a veto would require two-thirds majorities in both chambers. That would be possible in the Senate, if the GOP is fairly united. But, without Democrats, Republicans would be eight votes short in the House.
Emler’s plan, endorsed by most of the Republicans on his committee, rejects most of the accounting changes Sebelius proposed but accepts most of her targeted spending cuts. It then adds an across-the-board cut of 3.4 percent in spending financed by the state’s general tax revenues.
It would cut the current budgets of social services agencies by about $49 million more than Sebelius had proposed. But it includes language requiring agencies to seek administrative savings first and not end existing programs.
Democrats on the Senate Ways and Means Committee proposed their own plan, also worth about $300 million, building on Sebelius’ plan. It added accounting changes she had not sought, and Republicans quickly dismissed it as something that would push the state’s problems into the future, instead of solving them.
Sebelius said the Senate GOP proposal would hurt vulnerable Kansans, and she attacked Emler’s plan over its proposed cuts in aid to public schools.
Over the past four years, the state phased in an $892 million increase in aid to public schools to comply with Kansas Supreme Court orders in a 1999 lawsuit.
Sebelius said the education funding cuts proposed by Senate Republicans would be a “golden ticket” back to the Supreme Court.
Most Republicans argue such cuts can’t be avoided because aid to schools consumes half of the state’s general tax revenues.
They’ve also accused Sebelius of not giving the state’s budget problems enough attention and not acting aggressively enough to deal with them. Schmidt said her veto threat means she is “actually now engaged.”
Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee continued hearings on budget issues Tuesday. Chairman Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, said it would vote Thursday or Friday on a deficit-elimination bill.
Yoder also dismissed Sebelius’ veto threat.
“It is common knowledge in the building that the governor’s budget does not balance, and we are hopeful and are waiting for an opportunity for the governor to present additional ideas,” Yoder said. “Until such time happens, we’re going to continue to come up with constructive ways to solve the budget crisis in a realistic manner.”