Topeka Kansas legislative negotiators agreed Wednesday night on a $14 billion budget for the state’s 2012 fiscal year, one that will cut overall spending between 5 percent and 6 percent.
The spending plan that emerged from talks between the two chambers heads first to the Senate for approval, then to the House.
Public schools would take the biggest hit during the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. But almost every state agency would see some spending cuts to erase a budget shortfall that once was as large as $500 million.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who met with negotiators throughout the week’s talks, issued a statement noting that the deficit was closed without raising taxes, which wasn’t the case last year.
“It cuts spending while prioritizing core functions of government and sets the stage for a return to private sector growth,” Brownback said. “It’s a victory for Kansas.”
Much of the total reductions in the 2012 budget, between $770 million and $870 million, will reflect the disappearance of federal economic stimulus funds.
Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn said the cuts will be felt in social services and education, but that the changes may encourage efficiencies in government.
“We tried very hard to figure out what the priorities are for the citizens of Kansas,” said McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican. “I think it could wake up a whole new population of citizens because the services are no longer there.”
Legislators can’t end their session until they’ve passed a budget, likely on Friday evening at the earliest. Wednesday was their 89th day in session, out of 90 scheduled. Leaders predicted the bill would pass, though House Speaker Mike O’Neal said it may be only Republicans support it in his chamber.
“There will be people who vote no because there are too many cuts. There will be those because there aren’t enough,” said O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican. “What this bill is for is the middle. I think that’s the majority of the caucus.”
Republicans control both chambers, with a 32-8 edge in the Senate and 92-33 margin in the House.
Senate Vice President John Vratil said the spending plan reflects a fundamental change compared to how budgets had been written in recent years.
“We have altered the structure of our budget by making significant cuts in spending,” said Vratil, a Leawood Republican and part of the chamber’s negotiating team. “It’s not funny money or accounting tricks. It’s real cuts of real money.”
A key issue was the House’s demand that the next budget leave cash reserves of $50 million when the fiscal year concluded at the end of June 2012. House Republican leaders saw it as a hedge against future bad times, while senators were willing to sacrifice the cushion to lessen spending cuts.
Some of the last issues to be resolved were judicial branch funding, 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.
The state’s 289 school districts would see their general state aid cut by $232 per pupil, or 5.8 percent, the figure Republican Gov. Sam Brownback had proposed, dropping it from $4,012 to $3,780.
The budget plan also will authorize $34 million in new bonds for an ongoing renovation of the Statehouse, bringing its total projected cost to $319 million. The additional funds will allow workers to replacing aging copper in the roof and dome and finish work on the north wing, where construction has started.
The budget also preserves an $11 million state operating grant to Washburn University of Topeka, which the House had sought to cut in half, and $5 million to subsidize airline service in south-central Kansas.
Also under the budget, the Kansas Neurological Institute, the state’s hospital for the developmentally disabled in Topeka, would remain open. Brownback had proposed closing it by mid-2013.
It also contains two items that Brownback is expected to remove, using his power to veto individual budget provisions. The first provides $1.5 million in operating grants to public broadcasting stations and the second keeps the Kansas Arts Commission alive by giving it $689,000.
Brownback has proposed eliminating both to save the state money. The Arts Commission would be replaced by a non-government foundation, relying heavily on private donations to finance arts programs.