Topeka A Kansas House committee endorsed a deficit-reduction bill Thursday that cuts legislators’ pay but still doesn’t balance the state’s current budget.
The measure endorsed by the Appropriations Committee on a voice vote makes $91 million in budget adjustments. Most of the changes ratify actions Gov. Mark Parkinson took in November in hope of avoiding a deficit when the fiscal year ends June 30.
But the state has collected even less tax revenue than it anticipated since then. Legislative researchers predicted Thursday that Kansas will end the fiscal year with a $39 million deficit, even if the bill endorsed by the House committee becomes law.
House members could consider more spending cuts when they debate the bill next week. But many legislators — and Parkinson’s administration — appear willing to gamble on revenues improving in the next few months.
“We’re watching the revenues,” Budget Director Duane Goossen said after the Appropriations Committee finished its work. “We don’t know what’s required yet.”
The Senate approved its version of the legislation last month. The two chambers would have to work out their differences, which deal mainly with how to cut the Legislature’s budget.
The Democratic governor and Republican-controlled Legislature must balance the current budget before tackling a projected $416 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year. Parkinson has proposed raising sales and tobacco taxes, but money wouldn’t start flowing soon enough to help with the current budget.
In the largest change to the current budget, the House committee’s bill would divert $80 million in funds from road maintenance and highway projects to general government programs, such as education and social services.
The bill also adds $5 million to the budget for the court system, in hopes of preventing workers from being furloughed and court houses from closing extra days. Parkinson proposed those changes, and senators approved them as well.
The Legislature’s spending has become the biggest issue in discussions about rewriting the current budget.
The current legislative branch budget is $28 million, and Parkinson proposed cutting it by nearly $2.8 million, or almost 10 percent. Senators approved a cut of less than $1.7 million, or 6 percent.
The House’s cut is as big as Parkinson’s, and it comes with directions to cut legislators’ salaries by 11 percent. That means their daily pay while they’re in session would drop $9.75, to $78.91.
“People feel that the Legislature needs to have its own skin in the game,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican.
But, although lawmakers want to show they’re sharing in the cuts, some worried a 10 percent reduction would leave the Legislature without enough money if the session stretched longer than anticipated.
“If we’re not finished, would we come in and work for no wages?” said Rep. John Faber, a Brewster Republican.
Meanwhile, the larger issue of balancing the entire budget remained. Yoder and some House Republicans would like to make additional cuts, but Yoder acknowledged there doesn’t seem to be enough support in either chamber.
It’s possible for the state to avoid a deficit on June 30 by delaying some payments due in late June into July, after the start of the new fiscal year.
In June 2009, when it was caught off guard by unanticipated revenue shortfalls, the state delayed $73 million in aid payments to public schools and $31 million in tax refunds.
But delaying such payments creates a bigger headache for the following fiscal year.
“The Legislature, at some point, is going to have to come to grip with the reality that the budget has to be further reduced,” Yoder said.