Topeka The Kansas Senate on Tuesday approved a bipartisan budget that would make cuts to public schools and sets up a confrontation with the House, which is considering even deeper cuts.
State Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, and chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said the proposed $14 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 was the best that could be done.
"Let's hope for better times," McGinn said.
Senators had to bridge a $500 million revenue shortfall due to the curtailment of federal stimulus funds, increased social service needs, and the struggling economy, McGinn said. She said the budget decisions will "touch people's lives all across this state."
The measure was approved on a 36-3 vote.
The proposal would reduce base state aid to public schools by $226 per student, slightly less than the $232 per-student cut proposed in the House bill.
State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, was one of the three dissenting votes, saying the measure would lead Kansas down the path of "dismantling" public schools and pitting poor school districts against wealthier ones.
But some House Republicans are calling for bigger cuts to education and state employee pay when the full House considers its bill later this week.
During four hours of debate in the Senate, state worker pay issues and higher education funding dominated the discussion.
State Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, proposed cutting by 7.5 percent the salaries of all university employees making more than $100,000 per year.
"We're not living within our means, and we need to show the citizens of Kansas we are willing to live within our means," said Abrams.
But several senators said a pay cut to highly-sought-after researchers would jeopardize Kansas University's initiative to obtain national designation for its cancer center and other schools' attempts to lure federal funds and private grants.
"If we institute this amendment we are going to see some of our best and brightest leave," said state Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka.
Abrams' amendment failed, 14-21.
Abrams did succeed in passing an amendment that would cut the pay of legislators by 7.5 percent. Under the bill, other state officers, such as statewide elected officials, judges, and statutory agency heads will see a 2.5 percent salary decrease.
The Senate defeated an amendment by state Sen. Chris Steineger, R-Kansas City, that would have removed funding for raising the salaries of certain workers whose salaries are significantly below market value.
A fierce battle ensued over funding of high-profile research at KU and other schools under the Kansas Board of Regents.
Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed providing $5 million each to KU, Kansas State and Wichita State in research funding. But under Brownback’s plan, the funding would not go through the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees higher education. The funding would be made by the Kansas Department of Commerce, which is led by a Cabinet secretary appointed by the governor.
The Senate committee bill would have put that funding back under the Kansas Board of Regents.
But state Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, tried to place the funding in the Commerce Department, saying that agency is better suited to develop research into money-making ventures.
"The normal, scholarly approach to funding those projects doesn't work," Bruce said.
But McGinn said KU's cancer research, Wichita State's aviation research and Kansas State's animal research are praised nationally. "I don't know why we want to break a system that is working already," she said.
Bruce's amendment failed on a 19-20 vote.