Archive for Monday, March 21, 2011

Kansas House panel resumes work on proposed budget

March 21, 2011, 3:01 p.m. Updated March 21, 2011, 6:26 p.m.


— Salaries would be cut for many state employees under a proposal added Monday to a budget bill in the Kansas House, where lawmakers are trying to find ways to close a projected $493 million state funding shortfall.

The House Appropriations Committee is finishing work on a plan that would allow state government to spend almost $14 billion for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Most of the committee's recommendations follow proposals from Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, though some GOP panel members are looking for more savings.

"I don't feel we have made enough cuts yet to the size and scope of government," said Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican who proposed the pay cut.

Under his plan, salaries would be cut by 7.5 percent for state workers and elected officials earning more than $100,000. Pay cuts would be on a sliding scale for employees making between $40,000 and $100,000, while those making $40,000 or less wouldn't see a cut.

The pay cut would save Kansas about $19 million in fiscal year 2012, according to budget analysts. It wasn't immediately clear how many workers would be affected by the pay cut.

"I think we owe it to the taxpayers and the people who brought us in to office," DeGraaf said.

An idea was floated to close state government at 3 p.m. each Friday to save about $21 million, but the committee didn't take action on the proposal. The closing would be the equivalent to 104 working hours per person, or 13 full days.

The committee rejected a separate amendment by Rep. Anthony Brown, a Eudora Republican, to impose a 5.64 percent cut across the board on all state agencies, with the exception of health and social services caseloads. The cut, he said, would reduce the increase in government spending for the next fiscal year and create $341 million in savings.

"Guys, we're in tough times," Brown said. "All we're doing is cutting the increase of government. We're not cutting the budget from last year's numbers. We're cutting the increase."

Democrats and other Republicans said the cuts would go too deep.

"It's not all about cuts. We have to make an investment in the future," said Rep. Sharon Schwartz, a Washington Republican. "If we don't make that investment, we have problems."

Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Lawrence Democrat, added: "This is not a fair process. I know we're looking for cuts, but we're looking for cuts in all the wrong places."

The committee's counterpart in the Senate, the Senate Ways and Means Committee, on Monday had to revisit its budget that it had approved last week to make additional cuts to make the budget balance.

Senators extended a 7.5 percent pay cut to state officials, legislators and judges that will save Kansas $4.2 million in 2012.

A key recommendation in the Senate panel's plan is an approximately 5.6 percent cut in the state's base aid to Kansas' 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.

The House plan makes a $232 per student cut in 2012, though Brown sought to reduce the amount by another $75 per student on Monday, a move the committee rejected.

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. The House cut takes the base to $3,780 per student.

But 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.

It is unclear when the budget bills will be debated. The House committee is going back for more work on Tuesday, while the Senate bill could be debated early next week. Legislators are scheduled to begin a three-week recess on April 2.


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