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Archive for Friday, May 2, 2014

Republican leaders pass budget; Democrats predict fiscal mess

May 2, 2014

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— The Kansas Senate on Friday approved a state budget that would provide $250 bonuses to state employees and reduce waiting lists for people with disabilities who need services.

The measure was approved in the Senate on a 22-18 vote and now goes to the House. If approved there, legislators are likely to adjourn the wrap up session.

Democrats attacked the spending plan, saying the overall state budget has been harmed by Gov. Sam Brownback's tax cuts. Republicans responded that looming fiscal challenges will be handled.

"The grand experiment has failed," said state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, who ran against Brownback in 2010. "The lab rat has died. Rigor mortis is setting in."

A new state general revenue fund profile that takes into account current spending commitments shows that to balance the state budget over the next five years will require cuts or tax increases of $1.26 billion.

Republicans, who helped Brownback cut income tax rates and remove taxes for many businesses, described the Democratic criticisms as campaign rhetoric.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said budget profiles have always shown troubles for state spending in future years to varying degrees.

"This is all political wind," Masterson said of the Democrats' claims. "What we have here is a budget that I believe is balanced. I do believe we have issues we do need to work on."

Friday's arguments over the state's fiscal condition came amid two rounds of bad news for Kansas.

On Wednesday, the state reported it collected $93 million less in taxes than anticipated in April. And on Thursday, Moody's Investor Service downgraded state bonds, citing the state’s sluggish economic recovery, the use of non-recurring measures to balance the budget and revenue reductions resulting from tax cuts.

Masterson said the fiscal challenges will be met and dismissed the general revenue fund profile, saying it is difficulty to predict the future.

"I'm not saying we don't have issues. We will deal with it," he said.

All eight Democrats in the Senate voted against the budget, and they were joined by a mixture of moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans.

State Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, who voted against the bill, said, "We have excessive spending. We are taking too much from the private sector."

Kansas expects to spend approximately $14.6 billion in 2015 from all funding sources, including nearly $6 billion in state tax collections.

In April, Brownback signed a $129 million school finance bill meant to address a Kansas Supreme Court ruling earlier in the year. The spending is aimed at equalizing state aid payments for poor school districts for operations and capital improvements.

The additional spending was factored into Kelly's revenue projections. However, it doesn't include any additional money that could be required should a lower court determine that overall school spending is inadequate to satisfy the constitution.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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