Kansas House approves $13.6 billion budget

Democrats and moderate Republicans are closer to finishing a $13.6 billion budget that protects social services and education funding and increasing the sales tax to sustain it.

The House gave first-round approval early Saturday to a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, drafted by a bipartisan coalition over the objections of conservative House GOP leaders. The 71-48 vote suggested it would have enough support to pass on final action later Saturday.

The House coalition also was confident it could push a bill raising taxes $314 million to passage and onto Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson, who supports it. The Senate has passed the tax bill, and an up-or-down vote in the House is expected.

Senators would have to accept the House’s proposed budget without making any changes if legislators are to end their annual session before Sunday, which is Mother’s Day. But the Senate has approved a similar spending plan.

“It’s real close to the Senate budget,” said Rep. Bill Feuerborn, of Garnett, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

House members debated budget issues for a staggering 18 hours Friday and early Saturday.

The bipartisan plan was an alternative to a plan preferred by House GOP leaders that was balanced, but did not require a tax increase. The coalition’s proposal would restore cuts in public education and most reductions made in the past 18 months to social services.

The debate started with the GOP leaders’ plan, and Democrats and moderate Republicans had to offer 13 amendments to substitute their spending blueprint. Then, the House considered dozens of other amendments, many of them from conservative Republicans hoping to derail the bipartisan plan.

“I wish it hadn’t occurred this way,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican who opposed the bipartisan plan over how it would force tax increases. “Be that as it may, we now have a product.”

Parkinson has told the Republican-controlled Legislature he won’t accept further cuts to education funding or social services. But conservatives and many business owners and groups believe raising taxes will prolong the recession in Kansas by raising the cost of what people buy and depressing sales.

House GOP leaders backed a budget-balancing plan that would have cut aid to schools by $86 million, though they said local districts could make up such a loss by tapping reserve funds or raising local property taxes. But that plan didn’t have enough support in the House, and proposals to cut education funding failed in the Senate.

After the coalition budget was assembled, conservatives tried to remove $8 million earmarked for bringing some state employee wages in line with the private sector under an agreement reached last year. The motion failed 70-44.

Supporters of that amendment argued that while state employees work hard, they’re still employed while thousands of Kansas residents have lost their jobs in the private sector. The Kansas unemployment rate is 6.9 percent with more than 104,000 people out of work.

“We need to help Kansans get back to work, not tax them more,” said Rep. Kasha Kelley, an Arkansas City Republican.

The amendments kept coming. They included efforts to reopen state prison beds to reduce overcrowding caused by budget cuts. Plans were rejected to reopen space at Stockton and El Dorado.

One amendment was added that requires the state to prepare a list of all assets, estimated to be more than $10 billion, and determine which ones could be sold.