Topeka — The Kansas Senate approved a new budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year on Friday, but there's no clear indication the proposal will go any further.
House Speaker Mike O'Neal has said the chamber was unlikely to consider the Senate's new proposal, and his chamber was weighing options for resolving the budget impasse and ending the session. The two chambers approved budgets of roughly $14 billion earlier in the session, and negotiators have been meeting off and on to try to work out the differences.
The new Senate plan incorprates the spending agreements made with the House on most government programs, as well as the Senate's positions on spending for education, which would add $50 million to base state aid per student for the next school year. All of the funds come from the state general fund.
The House is willing to go along with education increases only if the money comes from surpluses in the Kansas Department of Transportation reserve accounts. The House also wants several education policy changes if it goes along with the spending increases.
"I hope they would take a close look at it. We're still willing to look at the one that's in conference," said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican and lead negotiator for the chamber. "We have to start putting some options out there to get this thing done."
The Legislature originally scheduled the session to last 90 days, though Friday marked day No. 97.
No additional negotiations between the House and Senate members were immediately scheduled Friday or for the weekend.
"We're down to some of the big issues. The Senate doesn't want to fund education or some of the big programs with the Department of Transportation," McGinn said. "All we could do is deal with the current budget year to fund education."
The Senate plan would address funding for the judicial branch, which needs money to keep its offices open until the fiscal year ends June 30. Kansas Supreme Court Justice Lawton Nuss has devised a furlough plan that would close offices to save money, but delayed full implementation on hopes that legislators would approve supplemental funding. The new Senate bill would give the courts $500,000 in additional money.
The next round of furloughs is set for May 24 and 25. If funding isn't approved, the Kansas Supreme Court would have to reschedule arguments that are scheduled to be heard May 24 in Topeka.
House members approved a minor spending measure Friday that would allow the Department of Corrections to sell land in Reno County for construction of a new jail. The measure also allows the department to buy a former boys' home in Ellsworth that will be used for minimum security inmates.
The Ellsworth proposal gained more attention after four inmates who were being housed in the Ottawa County jail escaped in April. The inmates were among nearly 90 state inmates who were being housed across Kansas in county jails to alleviate prison overcrowding.
Rep. Gene Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican, said the expansion at Ellsworth would save the state some $300,000 a year by keeping inmates in state custody.
"To me it's a no-brainer. It pays for itself every other year," he said.