Topeka Fewer dollars are available to take care of more needs. That’s what lawmakers heard Monday as the House budget-writing committee met with state agency leaders to work on funding government as tax receipts continued to nosedive.
“Bottom line, the news is not good,” Alan Conroy, director of the Kansas Legislative Research Department, told the Appropriations Committee.
First-quarter state tax receipts are down 12 percent from the first quarter of the last fiscal year, a sign the economy continues to show stress from high unemployment and reduced consumer spending, Conroy said. The state’s fiscal year begins July 1.
Unless Gov. Mark Parkinson makes more budget cuts, legislators said they may have to cut the budget again early in the session, which starts in January. In the 2009 session, lawmakers cut the budget three times and Parkinson used his authority to make additional cuts while lawmakers were not in session.
And cutting enough to balance the budget will be difficult because the cuts made earlier this year to public schools and higher education have already brought those funding levels close to the point at which the state may be jeopardizing federal stimulus funding.
“We’re really getting boxed into a corner in terms of cuts,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Yoder’s panel broke into subcommittees to drill deeper into the problems facing state agencies.
Public school funding
In a statement to the Education subcommittee, Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said to simply fund the requirements of current law will mean a $285 million increase for the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2010. State aid to schools was cut this year by $168 million.
“You’re in a very, very tough situation,” Dennis told the subcommittee. He also noted that applications for free and reduced-priced lunches for students are up 10 percent, while Kansas teachers rank 38th nationally in average salaries.
But Rep. Owen Donohoe, R-Bonner Springs, said the state cuts were not as drastic as Dennis said. And when Dennis was noting that student performance on statewide tests continue to improve, Donohoe said that didn’t take into account a 24 percent dropout rate.
Dennis, however, disputed Donohoe’s figures, saying the Kansas graduation rate was 89.5 percent.
Higher education request
Higher education representatives made their pitch for a $16.4 million increase.
Post-secondary education has taken a $100 million — or 12 percent — cut this year. The Kansas Board of Regents has said the $16.4 million increase would simply cover the cost of increased health insurance costs and increased enrollment, especially at community colleges and technical schools.
“We’re going to have to come up with $16.4 million just to hold people harmless,” said Fort Hays State University President Ed Hammond.
Enrollment at the state’s 19 community colleges has increased 9.3 percent, from 71,834 last fall to 78,503. While that means increased tuition dollars for the schools, tuition only covers about 18 percent of the cost of education at community colleges, said Tom Burke, president of Kansas City, Kansas Community College.
Burke attributed the spike in community college enrollment to people trying to increase their job skills because of the sour economy.
The regents also are seeking a long-term appropriations commitment of $50 million for each of the two years after the next fiscal year.