Republicans pass Kansas budget, send it to supportive governor
Topeka ? With only Republican support, the Kansas Legislature today approved a budget that cut schools, social services and public safety and kept the lid on state taxes.
Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican and former U.S. senator in his first session as governor, said the $13.8 billion budget did “the most good with the least harm in a tough atmosphere.”
But Democrats said the cuts were too deep and many were unnecessary because Republicans demanded that there be an ending balance of more than $70 million.
“This budget has a lot of pain,” said state Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Cummings. He said tens of thousands of Kansans who receive some form of assistance will lose that help.
But supporters of the proposal said the cuts were necessary to close a $500 million revenue shortfall, much of that due to the end of federal stimulus funding that had helped prop up the previous year’s budget.
Brownback said the loss of federal assistance will continue for a long time.
“This is the way it is going to be for the next five years just because the federal government is so broke,” he said.
Armed with large Republican majorities in the House and Senate, Brownback urged his GOP colleagues to pass the budget on their own.
Reaching across the party aisle for votes “is not the way you want to go,” Brownback said in a pep talk to the House GOP caucus.
“Show the state of Kansas that Republicans can govern and they can govern as a team,” he said.
He said the larger the margin of passage, the more the policies and funding in the budget will be accepted by the public.
The budget was approved late Thursday in the Senate on a 28-11 vote and then at nearly 3 a.m. Friday in the House on a 69-55 vote.
Meanwhile, Democrats, who are in the minority in both the House and Senate, blasted the proposal, saying it will lead to teacher layoffs, school closures and increased class sizes.
The bill would cut base state aid to schools by $232 per student, or 6 percent, bringing that funding stream to its lowest level in more than a decade. The Lawrence district was looking at an approximate $2 million cut, officials said.
“As the economy recovers, there’s no reason to force these sweeping cuts,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka.
The proposal also ends the final two years of a pay plan to bring up the wages of state employees who are paid way below market value.
“By reneging on this promise, thousands of state employees who maintain our highways, provide our public safety and care for the disabled will continue earning far below their private sector counterparts,” Hensley said.
The budget proposal does continue funding the Kansas Neurological Institute, the state hospital for those with severe developmental disabilities. Brownback had proposed closing it down over two-year period.
And it includes $34 million in bonds to continue work on the Capitol renovation, bringing the total cost of the project to $319 million.