Topeka A Senate committee endorsed a state budget proposal Thursday night that avoids cuts in public school aid and uses federal stimulus funds to remain balanced.
The Ways and Means Committee voted 13-0 for a bill containing the spending plan for fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1. The Senate expects to debate it Tuesday.
The proposed budget contains some of the key recommendations from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, but the Republican-controlled committee differed with the Democratic governor on some points. The committee’s unanimous vote came after five hours of debate in which it considered and rejected furloughs for state employees.
The committee accepted Sebelius’ proposals to use $585 million in federal stimulus funds to help avoid a deficit. That plan allows the state to avoid cutting its $3.78 billion in annual aid to Kansas’ 295 school districts.
But the committee believes its budget would just barely balance. Legislative researchers, citing their own projections on state revenue, said the proposed budget would leave the state with just $5 million in reserves on June 30, 2010.
“I think we’re kind of stuck in quicksand,” said Sen. David Wysong, a Mission Hills Republican.
The House Appropriations Committee also has endorsed a budget plan that also uses federal stimulus dollars but would reduce aid to public schools by nearly $26 million, or slightly less than 1 percent. Sebelius denounced the proposed cut in school aid.
The entire House plans to debate the Appropriations Committee’s plan Monday. The final version of the fiscal 2010 budget will be drafted by House and Senate negotiators, and legislative leaders expect it to pass by April 4.
Legislative researchers have projected that the state will finish fiscal 2010 with a $682 million deficit if it attempts to duplicate its current budget without stimulus dollars.
To help close the gap, Wysong proposed forcing nonessential state employees to take up to 12 unpaid days off. He noted that businesses are firing staff nationwide and said his proposal would allow the affected state workers to keep their jobs but share some sacrifice to balance the budget.
“I’m just trying to get to a bottom line,” he said.
But his proposal failed on a voice vote after Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican, complained that no one knows whether furloughs would close state offices and hurt services.
“We’ve not had any testimony from any state agency on what this would do,” Schmidt said. “This has not been on the table.”
The committee struggled with other decisions, such as Sebelius’ plan to refinance some state bonds to save money in fiscal 2010. She has proposed to pay only interest for a year and spread out the postponed principle payments over 20 years.
The committee initially rejected the plan because the state would incur more interest costs over those 20 years. But later, the $39 million in projected savings for fiscal 2010 proved too large to ignore as the committee struggled with other alternatives.
However, the committee did reject Sebelius’ plan to include in the budget $50 million in potential fees from developers of state-owned casinos in Wyandotte and Sumner counties. A 2007 law authorizes one casino in each county, but the Kansas Lottery still is taking applications from potential developers.