Statehouse Live: Brownback cuts $50 million from public schools

Senator questions governor's authority

? Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday slashed $56.5 million in state spending, including $50.2 million from public schools after fellow Republicans who control the House and Senate failed to come up with a budget-balancing plan.

The move produced finger-pointing between House and Senate GOP leaders, and Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka questioned whether Brownback even had the authority to take the unilateral action on the budget.

The move means that base state aid to schools will fall from $4,012 per pupil to $3,990 — a $22 per student decrease, according to the governor’s office. The base state aid per pupil cut would have been deeper, but the state will move some federal funds around to keep it at $22 per student, the office said.

Brownback said the cuts will satisfy a state requirement to balance the budget by the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.

He said he would like legislators now to focus on the budget for the fiscal year, that starts July 1 and which faces a nearly $500 million deficit.

Noting the state’s 110,000 unemployed, Brownback said, “Our focus must be to grow the state’s economy and get those folks back to work. We do that and we’ll have additional funding for everyone’s budget priorities.”

Brownback said he picked up the budget knife after House and Senate negotiations fell apart.

Brownback had asked the Legislature on Jan. 12 to send him a bill that would cut spending and provide a $35 million ending balance.

The House and Senate passed different versions. But negotiators couldn’t hammer out the differences. The House wanted deeper cuts to education than the Senate was willing to make.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said public schools have been cut sharply over the past three years.

Hensley said the House-Senate budget conference committee should continue working.

Of Brownback, he said, “He can’t even bring members of his own party together.”

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, also said the budget conference committee could continue meeting, but Senate members indicated that Brownback’s budget cuts would suffice for the current fiscal year, and the Legislature should focus during the rest of the legislative session on writing a budget for the next fiscal year.

The budget cuts include $2.3 million from the Kansas Board of Regents. But Kip Peterson, a spokesman for the regents, said that money is coming from an overfunded infrastructure loan program and shouldn’t affect higher education operations.