Kansas lawmakers are preparing to wind up the regular session today and are likely to leave without voting on the budget deal that House and Senate negotiators struck Wednesday.
There are several procedural reasons for that, but it boils down to the fact that the two Democrats on the negotiating teams have refused to sign off on the report. That means the House has to take another procedural step known as a motion to "agree to disagree," and Republican leaders aren't sure how a vote on that would turn out.
Democrats say they won't sign off on the budget deal because they think it's unsustainable. It relies on sweeping millions of dollars out of the state highway fund to pay for general fund expenses. And it's predicated on the assumption that lawmakers will pass a number of tax measures the governor has asked for, even though there is substantial doubt that the conservative-dominated Legislature will do any such thing.
Some Democrats also objected to the targeted cuts the Senate had proposed to Kansas University and Kansas State University, along with the reallocation of student financial aid money to students at private institutions. But the conference committee restored the KU and K-State money the Senate had cut and agreed to a less drastic reallocation of financial aid in favor of private school students.
The budget deal was worked out Wednesday by a conference committee made up of the chairman, vice chairman and ranking Democrat from the House and Senate budget-writing committees.
Rules of the Legislature say a conference committee report has to be signed by all six members of the panel. And in most cases, the minority party members will sign the report, even if they don't intend to vote for it. Withholding signatures is seen as a statement of strong protest.
When that happens, the full House and full Senate have to approve an "agree-to-disagree" motion, which sends the report back to the conference committee so it can come out with only four signatures.
The Senate ran its motion Wednesday, but the House did not. And there is concern in the House that enough conservatives don't like the bill that they won't vote for the motion because they, too, don't like the idea that it requires tax increases to be passed later.
If the House adjourns before voting on the measure, the entire budget issue will have to wait until April 29, when lawmakers return for the wrap-up session. By then, they will have new, updated revenue estimates for the next fiscal year showing more closely just how much of a gap there is between desired spending and expected revenue.
Higher education funding seems to be one of the key sticking points in ongoing budget talks between the Kansas House and Senate, and it's not yet clear whether the two chambers will reach an agreement before adjourning Thursday or Friday for the Legislature's annual spring break.
So far, the Senate is the only chamber that has passed a budget bill. It includes, among other things, a $9.4 million cut in general operating funds for Kansas University over the next two years, and a $2.1 million cut to Kansas State University in the upcoming fiscal year.
Also, the Senate included a proviso that says out of the $15.7 million available for need-based student financial aid, 75 percent will be reserved for students attending private, independent colleges and universities.
House negotiators so far are not going along with the cuts to KU and K-State. But Wednesday morning they offered a compromise on financial aid, suggesting that 60 percent be reserved for students at private schools.
The House is negotiating based on the bill reported out of its Appropriations Committee, but Republican leaders have not put that bill on the floor of the House for full debate and a vote.
Republican leaders in the House have admitted that they may not be able to muster the 63 votes needed for passage. But Democrats have suggested that GOP leaders don't want a floor debate where amendments could be offered out of fear that an amendment to authorize expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act might pass.
The chambers are able to meet in conference committee anyway because the Senate put the contents of its budget bill into a House bill, which technically makes it a change to the original House bill.
If negotiators for the two chambers are able to agree on a package, it will go back to the full chambers for a straight up-or-down vote, with no opportunity for further amendments.
Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn Thursday or Friday for about three and a half weeks. During that time, budget officials will release new consensus revenue estimates for the upcoming fiscal year. Then the Legislature will return April 29 for a final wrap-up session to pass what is known as the "omnibus" budget bill, which must be balanced with those new revenue figures.
Topeka — Kansas University's National Cancer Institute designation would be at significant risk if budget cuts proposed by House Republican leaders were enacted into law, officials said Wednesday.
The leaders of state higher education institutions briefed the Kansas Board of Regents on the proposed cuts and said they stood with Gov. Sam Brownback who is calling for a continuation of the current level of funding for higher education.
The House has proposed a 4 percent cut to higher education, plus a salary cap, while the Senate has recommended a 2 percent cut. The 4 percent cut and salary cap would total more than $20 million at KU, Gray-Little said.
"If we get the level of cuts that have been proposed in the House it will have a negative effect on our ability to provide the kind of workforce that the state needs," KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said.
Kansas State University President Kirk Schultz called the proposed budget cuts "momentum killers."
But House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, has said the argument that such cuts would hurt "has no merit."
Last year, KU's Cancer Center won NCI designation after several years of effort. The designation will open up more research and clinical trials, but officials said renewal of the designation will be difficult to achieve under the proposed cuts. The salary cap would hinder the center's ability to hire and retain top cancer researchers, KU said.
KU released a list of cuts that would have to be enacted if the House budget gained approval. Those include:
— Reducing by 36 the number of medical students KU admits each year. Three-quarters of the reduction would be in Wichita. The School of Medicine-Salina would close.
— Cutting by 50 the number of nursing students admitted and by 30 the available medical resident positions.
— Elimination of 38 faculty positions on the Lawrence campus. KU said the school would become a "farm team" for universities in other states.
— Risk of losing membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities.
Other regents universities presented similar scenarios of losing faculty, shutting down courses, more crowded classes and losing ground to other states.
"Some of the proposed cuts will set us back a decade in funding," said Regents spokeswoman Mary Jane Stankiewicz.
Several board members said they didn't understand why higher education was being targeted for the bulk of proposed cuts.
Regent Robba Moran said states that are investing in higher education are the ones attracting large corporations. "(University) rankings do matter and rankings don't come with inexpensive faculty," she said.
Regent Fred Logan Jr. said neither the House nor Senate budget proposals are pro-growth, but he added he was confident Brownback will be able to get the Legislature to adopt his budget plan.
Brownback plans to tour next week to rally support for his higher education budget. The Legislature returns for the wrap up session on May 8.
In focusing on higher education, Brownback is also pushing for making the 6.3 percent state sales tax rate permanent. Under current law, the sales tax is supposed to decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1.
Democrats have been critical of Brownback's sales tax plan. “Kansans should not be fooled," said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. "The sales tax increase will not protect higher education. The governor is using a smoke-and-mirrors strategy to hide the real reason behind the budget cuts – his irresponsible income tax cuts.”
Topeka — House and Senate budget writers on Tuesday remained at an impasse over funding of higher education.
The House has approved a 4 percent reduction to higher education while the Senate has proposed a 2 percent cut.
In addition, the House has proposed other cuts from job vacancies, salary caps and other changes for a grand total of $63.35 million in reductions, compared with the Senate's cut of $21.25 million.
On Monday, Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little met with House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and other House leaders to talk about higher education funding.
Higher ed officials pointed out that a recent national report noted that recent cuts in higher education have led to steep tuition increases.
States are spending $2,353 or 28 percent less per student on higher education in the current fiscal year than they did in 2008, when the recession hit, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
During that period, tuition has increased $1,850, or 27 percent, the study said.
"Reversing these trends and reinvesting in higher education should be a high priority for state policymakers. A large and growing share of future jobs will require college-educated workers," the study said.
Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed keeping higher education funding at its current level.
Senate leaders Thursday said Gov. Sam Brownback's budget proposal will be cut and that may eliminate $10 million to help Kansas University build a new health education building.
"As you look at cuts, the easiest things to cut are projects that haven't started yet," said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, described the KU proposal as "low-hanging fruit," in efforts to cut the budget.
Their comments came after the Senate wrapped up business before the unofficial halfway point of the 2013 legislative session.
Wagle said Brownback's budget will have to be cut in order to bridge a revenue shortfall. Meanwhile, she said, she believes a majority of the Senate will vote to keep in place the 6.3 percent state sales tax rate, which was scheduled to fall back to 5.7 percent on July 1.
Keeping the sales tax at 6.3 percent is necessary to buy down income tax rates, Wagle, Bruce and Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence said.
KU has made construction of a $75 million medical building at the KU Medical Center a major goal to increase the number of trained doctors.
Brownback proposed $10 million over two years to help jump-start the proposal. A Senate budget committee has removed the funding but the House budget committee has kept it in.
Brownback doubts overall funding increase for higher ed, but sees additional dollars for specific projects; Governor also sees opportunities for the state in federal budget mess
With state revenue shortfalls looming, Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday said there was little chance of an overall spending increase for higher education.
But in a talk with the Kansas Board of Regents, Brownback said the possibility existed to provide additional dollars for specific projects at the schools.
"I really don't think the time is appropriate with the Legislature or with me to ask for base funding," increases, said Brownback.
Brownback, however, said he and the Legislature are focused on trying to target funding for specific projects or programs, such as technical education.
Regents Chairman Tim Emert said Brownback has delivered the same message before and the board has adjusted its "ask" downward.
"We've kind of reached the point that we just hope that we can hold our own and keep funding where it is in this very difficult economic time," Emert said.
In September, the board sent Brownback a recommended $47.1 million in additional funding, which would be about a 6.2 percent increase.
Brownback will work on a state budget later this month to present to the Legislature when the 2013 session starts in January.
Brownback's administration has told state agencies to prepare for tight budgets, and has directed them to include a 10 percent cut in their spending requests for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
And the most recent revenue estimates show the state faces a $327 million revenue shortfall, mostly because of tax cuts Brownback signed into law.
The state is decreasing its individual income tax rates for 2013, with the top rate dropping to 4.9 percent from 6.45 percent. Also, the state will exempt the owners of 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other businesses from income taxes.
Included in the proposed $47.1 million increase in higher education funding is $2.8 million to improve the Wichita campus of the Kansas University School of Medicine, and $1 million as part of a proposed $30 million in state funds to pay for a new health education building at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.
Also part of the higher ed wish list is a 1 percent pay increase for the 18,000 employees working on university campuses.
KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said Brownback made it clear that any increase in the base funding for higher education was probably not going to happen.
But Gray-Little said she was encouraged by Brownback's re-stated belief in the importance of higher education and "the value and ability of higher education to make a contribution, specifically to job creation, training highly skilled workers, and providing the intellectual energy for the kinds of things that need to happen here in Kansas."
In his comments, Brownback also said he sees opportunities for the state to benefit from the federal government's fiscal problems.
With the federal government's lack of resources, Brownback said the state is negotiating with the feds on Kansas taking a more active role in securing ownership in intellectual properties that spin off the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.
He also said the state is negotiating to purchase water storage in federal reservoirs. And he said the state should also investigate whether it could offer to take over some of the prison and military training services at Fort Leavenworth.
"The feds are in a negotiating mood. They need to be because they are out of money," he said.
Asked later where the state, which is projected to see tax revenues drop sharply because of the tax cuts, would come up with the money to do this, Brownback said, "You got to prioritize."
He also said Kansas should become the intellectual center to develop policies to combat human trafficking.
And he called on higher education institutions to produce more entrepreneurs. "We don't have enough start ups in Kansas," he said. "We are toying with the idea of how can you pay the system to encourage more start ups."