Archive for Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kansas budget talks stall over savings estimates

May 11, 2011

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— Legislators said they were making progress on lingering issues that prevent resolution of the 2012 Kansas budget, as private discussions resumed Wednesday on the $14 billion spending package.

Talks broke off shortly after midnight Tuesday when the last offer from the Senate fell short of House demands for an ending balance.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades said he and his Senate counterparts have cut the list of remaining sticking points to fewer than a dozen.

"I think we're making progress," said Rhoades, a Newton Republican. "The whole issue with the Senate is the ending balance."

Rhoades said remaining issues include judicial branch funding, resolving a shortfall in special education funding to satisfy federal requirements and funding for the state's KAN-Ed program that provides high-speed, broadband Internet access to more than 400 schools, colleges, libraries and hospitals.

Three members each from the House and Senate met throughout the day Tuesday and agreed on a number of items on the budget, which covers government operations beginning July 1. However, progress stalled after a final Senate offer turned out to have a smaller ending balance than previously thought.

Senators believed their package would match a House stipulation that the budget produce $50 million in savings. But double-checking the figures revealed the package is $20 million short.

The House is insisting on the $50 million in savings even as the state faces a projected shortfall. The budget is likely to cut overall state spending between 5 percent and 6 percent. Schools would take the biggest hit, but almost every state agency would see some spending cuts.

Legislators need a budget agreement to bring the 2011 session to a close by Thursday, the 90th of 90 days scheduled, though Rhoades said it appeared the session would last at least until Friday.

Rhoades said any budget that had less than $50 million left over would be difficult to get through the House. Senators have been willing to sacrifice that cushion to lessen cuts to education and social services.

"Are we trying to get a budget number or is this about cuts?" said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican. "I'm concerned we have a huge ending balance and people back home might ask about the cuts."

Much of the total reductions in the 2012 budget, between $770 million and $870 million, will reflect the disappearance of federal economic stimulus funds.

During Tuesday's talks, House Republicans moved away from their position in favor of cutting general aid to the state's 289 public school districts by $250 per student, or 6.2 percent. They embraced Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's position, a cut of $232 per student.

Brownback and his staff met with the leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature throughout the day to help broker a deal. He said he realized it was a difficult process but that he was hopeful a resolution was in the offing.

"I put a global proposal out to help solve the various issues for the House and in particular the Senate on spending," Brownback said in a brief interview. "I think everybody is seeing the end game. Legislative sessions are a lot easier to start then they are to finish. We'll see how they respond."

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