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Archive for Monday, March 23, 2009

House advances spending plan

Chamber gives boost to health care, snubs schools, cuts own pay

March 23, 2009

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How they voted

  • School funding

Here is how area House members voted on an amendment to restore $26 million that was cut from public schools. The measure failed, 58-62. A yes vote was to reinstate the funding, and a no vote was against the amendment, preserving the cut.

Yes

Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence Tony Brown, D-Baldwin City Paul Davis, D-Lawrence Ann Mah, D-Topeka Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence

No

Anthony Brown, R-Eudora Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie

  • SCHIP funding

Here’s how area legislators in the House voted on an amendment to increase funding by $1.2 million for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The measure passed 75-48. A yes vote was for the amendment.

Yes

Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence Tony Brown, D-Baldwin City Paul Davis, D-Lawrence Ann Mah, D-Topeka Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence

No

Anthony Brown, R-Eudora Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie

— Amid budget uncertainty, state House members voted Monday to cut their own pay and to increase funding for children’s health care and services for Kansans with disabilities. But they kept in place funding reductions to public schools, public safety and higher education.

The actions occurred during more than seven hours of debate on the $13.4 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. A final vote is scheduled today when the Senate starts work on its budget proposal. The two separate plans will likely end up in a conference committee for further negotiations.

House Republican leaders said their budget plan was the best that could be done under dire fiscal circumstances.

“Kansas are losing their jobs and this budget situation is going to get worse,” said state Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

But Democrats said some of the cuts, especially to schools, were unnecessary. They voiced support for delaying tax breaks to businesses, and although that idea has gone nowhere, they did manage to win approval of amendments that are aimed at eliminating waiting lists for services for Kansans with disabilities.

But the budget process is far from over. Faced with doomsday budget scenarios early in the 2009 legislative session, then the hope of rescue through federal stimulus funds, lawmakers still face another unknown: the April 17 revenue estimate that will provide the last figures that lawmakers will consider when writing a final budget.

Fight over school dollars

On Monday, one of the most contentious issues dealt with school funding.

House Republican leaders want to reduce school funding by $26 million, saying the cut is necessary to help balance the budget.

They also argued that the less than 1 percent cut to schools was small in comparison with cuts of about 9 percent to public safety, 3.6 percent to higher education and 4 percent to social services. Yoder said schools needed to learn how to share in the budget pain.

But Democrats and some Republicans argued that public schools had already been cut much deeper from the level that was promised last year before the economy crashed. The lack of school funding was already causing layoffs and program cutbacks statewide, they said.

“The cuts we make in Topeka, they affect people’s lives, they affect children’s education,” said Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita.

And, they said, the cuts to schools could jeopardize $487 million in federal stimulus funds because of requirements that the state maintain its funding effort to draw down the recovery dollars.

But an amendment by Rep. Bill Feuerborn, D-Garnett, to restore $26 million to schools failed, 58-62. Later, a Democratic amendment to plug in an additional $6 million for higher education failed, 56-64.

Health care funding

Adding more funds for children’s health care, however, was successful.

The House voted 75-48 for a $1.2 million increase in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides low-cost coverage for children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance.

Supporters of the funding said it would provide health care to 8,000 children.

“These are probably the most responsible people there are,” said Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita. He said the families targeted by the funding are those that don’t have insurance from work and must work several jobs to make ends meet.

But opponents said it would go toward families who could afford their own insurance but just weren’t good at managing their money.

Many of these families were buying cell phones and cable television while not purchasing health insurance, said state Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City.

“Let’s not subsidize Kansas families who can afford their own health insurance, who need to be properly budgeting,” Kelley said.

In Kansas, SCHIP has about 39,000 children, offering coverage for children in households with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty level, which is $42,408 per year for a family of four.

The measure approved by the House would provide the funding necessary to raise the income eligibility to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, which would make it about $53,000 per year. Premiums cost from $20 to $30 per month per household. The additional funding would also draw down federal dollars for the program.

End waiting list

State Reps. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, and Jerry Henry, D-Atchison, were successful in adding $10.5 million to provide home and community-based services to Kansans with physical and developmental disabilities.

“I think we have an obligation” to remove the waiting lists, Ballard said. She noted that the waiting period for those with developmental disabilities was upward of four years.

Cutting legislative pay

The surprise of the debate came when state Rep. Bill Otto, R-LeRoy, pushed for an amendment to cut the salaries of legislators by 10 percent for the 2010 session. If enacted, the change would mean that lawmakers would make about $80 per day.

House members, however, rejected a proposal by Otto to cut the pay of state employees making more than $50,000 per year.

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