Kansas Senate endorses budget close to Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan

? A Kansas Senate committee endorsed a proposed state budget on Thursday that is similar to a spending plan outlined by Gov. Sam Brownback but that calls for a slightly less severe reduction in base aid to the state’s public schools.

The Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved its $14 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, a plan that would eliminate a projected $493 million shortfall without raising taxes.

But the state still wouldn’t have much of a cushion should revenues be less robust than anticipated. The spending plan drafted by the committee would leave less than $8 million in cash reserves at the end of June 2012.

The committee’s endorsement of the budget sends the measure to the Senate, and its leaders hope to have a debate on it next week. The House Appropriations Committee is drafting its own proposed budget.

“We did the best we could with what we had,” said Senate committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican. “I think people will — eventually, after we get out of here — see that significant cuts were made.”

Last year, lawmakers increased the state’s sales tax to avoid the kind of reductions they’re considering this year, particularly for public schools. But the state still faced a budget shortfall going forward because of the loss of federal economic stimulus dollars, and Brownback and many of the Republicans who control both chambers of the Legislature have promised not to increase taxes.

A key recommendation in the Senate panel’s budget is an approximately 5.6 percent cut in the state’s base aid to its 289 school districts, or about $226 per student. Brownback had proposed a steeper cut of $232 per student, but senators worked to find savings in other programs to shift into schools.

Under the Senate plan, base aid would drop from $4,012 per student to $3,786. The reduction is likely to have local school boards considering layoffs this spring.

“It’s an ugly budget,” said Sen. Jean Schodorf, a Wichita Republican who serves on the budget committee but is also chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. “We had to make tough choices.”

But the Senate budget committee, like Brownback, is planning to cover the increasing costs associated with social services, particularly Medicaid, which pays for health services for the poor and needy.

And the plan does meet a demand from the federal government that the state spend an additional $26 million on schools’ special education programs, or face the loss of a similar amount of federal funds each year into the future.