Statehouse Live: Brownback signs budget; vetoes Kansas Arts Commission funding

? Gov. Sam Brownback on Saturday signed into law the $13.8 billion state budget, and as expected vetoed funding of the Kansas Arts Commission.

The budget, approved with only Republican votes in the Legislature, also cuts base state aid to schools by $232 per student, or 5.6 percent, and makes cuts in social services. Schools have said the cuts will force teacher layoffs and school closings and will jeopardize student performance as base state aid falls to its lowest level in two decades.

But Brownback congratulated legislators on crafting “a fair budget in the midst of a down economy” without raising taxes. Legislators started the 2011 session facing a $500 million revenue shortfall, in part due to expiring federal assistance.

While approving most of the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, Brownback, a Republican who took office in January, applied a line item veto in several areas, including funds for the Arts Commission.

During the legislative session, Brownback had issued an order to eliminate the Arts Commission as a cost-cutting move and replace it with a private, nonprofit foundation.

The plan brought widespread opposition with supporters of the commission saying it was needed to lure federal arts dollars and provide important programs in local communities. The Kansas Senate rejected Brownback’s order and both the House and Senate agreed to fund the commission at $689,000 for the year.

Even so, Brownback earlier this month issued layoff notices to the commission’s staff of five employees.

In his veto message to the Legislature, Brownback said, “In difficult fiscal times such as these, the state must prioritize how to spend its limited resources and focus its attention on providing core services. The arts will continue to thrive in Kansas when funded by private donations, and I intend to personally involve myself in efforts to make this happen.”

Henry Schwaller, chairman of the Arts Commission, said the battle isn’t over. Although the agency has been defunded and its employees laid off, the commission still exists in state statute, he said.

The commission plans to conduct its next quarterly meeting June 16 at the Lawrence Arts Center and will discuss then what to do next, Schwaller said.

“I’m very optimistic we can move forward,” he said. Schwaller said he hoped to build public support for the commission and get the Legislature to fund it again in the future.

Schwaller dismissed Brownback’s statement that arts funding was not a core function of state government.

“I thought fostering and creating jobs was a core function of government, and that is what the Arts Commission does,” he said.

He said the commission provides funding, strategic advice and assistance to thousands of groups in the state.

Additional vetoes

Brownback’s other line-item vetoes include:

• A proposed 2.5 percent surcharge on state employees for their health insurance. Jane Carter, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, praised Brownback for the veto and criticized legislators who put the surcharge in the budget bill.

“The action of certain members of the Legislature was nothing more than a tax on hard-working state employees and their families,” she said.

• A proposed $5.9 million across-the-board cut in state spending. Brownback said he intends to make the cuts but “must have the flexibility to impose them where I believe they can be made without harming key services.”

• A provision by the Legislature requiring the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to report quarterly to legislative budget committees. Brownback said the provision placed “an unfair and unnecessary administrative burden on one state agency.” He said he has directed his administration to “maintain open lines of communication with the Legislature.”

On Friday, SRS announced sweeping employee and mission changes with little public notice.

In addition, Brownback said that moving forward he will again propose no more state funding of public broadcasting.

“I encourage recipients of these grants to make appropriate preparations,” he said. The budget provides $1.5 million to public broadcasting stations.

Legislators will meet Wednesday for the ceremonial end of the session, but it is doubtful there will be any attempt to override Brownback’s vetoes. Such an effort would require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate.