Topeka — House Republicans pushed through budget cuts Tuesday that they defended as responsible, but that Democrats said would hurt public schools and jeopardize life-saving research at Kansas University and other higher education institutions.
The measure would cut base state aid to schools and enact a 7.5 percent pay cut to high-wage state employees, including about 1,500 at higher education institutions.
House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, called the bill “a responsible budget that provides a positive ending balance for this fiscal year.” It was approved 81-40 with only Republicans in support. Democrats and a handful of Republicans opposed it.
House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said the education cuts would lead to larger classes and teacher layoffs. “Our children will suffer so that big businesses can be exempt from paying taxes,” Davis said.
And he said the pay cuts will hurt research at higher education schools and could jeopardize National Cancer Institute designation at the Kansas University Medical Center and bringing the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility to Manhattan.
“ ... the extreme right wing has sent a clear message to leading researchers at our universities that their work is not valued,” Davis said.
The legislation essentially embraced cuts proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, to the current fiscal year, and will result in a reduction in base state aid to schools from $4,012 per student to $3,937 per student.
Democrats said the bill shorted special education below required federal levels, and would come back to haunt the state by resulting in special education cuts from the federal government that could total up to $25 million per year.
But attempts to add $16.7 million in special education funding were rejected twice using the House’s new “pay-go” rule that limits spending increases during floor debate of an appropriations bill. O’Neal said they “pay-go” provision worked as intended, providing budgetary “responsibility and discipline.”
Conservative Republicans added a provision in committee to cut by 7.5 percent the pay of legislators, state officers, judges and regents employees making more than $100,000 per year.
Several legislators tried to remove the 7.5 percent pay cut to high-wage state employees at regents institutions, saying the proposal would chase away top-flight researchers and doctors at KU and other schools.
State Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, said researchers working on treatments for cancer and other diseases are in high demand and will be lured by other states. “If you cut these folks 7.5 percent, we are sending the message you aren’t important and you should look for other employment. They (the researchers) are a mobile commodity, and they will go,” he said.
But state Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, said those receiving a pay cut should realize the state faces a huge revenue deficit. “Anyone making over a $100,000 needs to join us and the governor and experience some pain.” Legislators said Brownback has voluntarily taken a 10 percent pay cut.
Hineman’s amendment to remove the high-wage earners at regents institutions from the pay cut failed, 45-71.
The Senate is currently working on its own budget plan. After finishing work on the current fiscal year budget, the Legislature will work on a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Current estimates have pegged the revenue shortfall for that year at $492 million.
During debate, abortion opponents also pushed through an amendment that would prevent the state from passing through federal family planning service grants to Planned Parenthood.