Kansas House panel passes budget requiring tax increases

? A House budget panel endorsed a $6.4 billion budget plan Tuesday that doesn’t balance without tax increases.

The budget approved by the House Appropriations Committee would fall about $133.6 million short if the Legislature does not increase taxes on alcohol and cigarettes as Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has recommended.

Republican Rep. Virgil Peck from Tyro was the only committee member to vote against the plan, saying he would not support a budget that increases spending without having secured the revenues to pay for it.

“I know in my own home or business, I don’t go out and say, ‘I’m going to spend X amount of dollars, now where am I going to get the money,'” Peck said.

Chairman and Republican Rep. Ron Ryckman of Olathe said approving the plan would help clarify how much additional revenue the state will need through new taxes.

“We kind of have a chicken-and-egg game going between us and the tax committee. We’re going to give them a target,” Ryckman said.

Both chambers have already approved the largest portion of the state budget by passing the governor’s school funding overhaul. Brownback is expected to sign the plan later this week.

The House Appropriations Committee made a series of small changes to the budget bill, including setting aside as much as $3 million to bring in an outside firm to study government programs to find cost savings.

Republican Rep. Marvin Kleeb of Overland Park proposed the move, and said it would provide a high return on investment.

“If we can find efficiencies that mean that we’re able to actually spread out more services to more people, then we have a win-win for the taxpayers as well as those who we are trying to serve,” Kleeb said.

Kansas State University would also get an extra $3.7 million and be allowed it to raise $60 million in bonds for the renovation and expansion of Seton Hall under changes the committee made to the bill. Several lawmakers disagreed with the move, however.

Republican Rep. Amanda Grosserode of Lenexa said she opposed it because it would give the university an unequal share of roughly $30 million distributed to state universities each year for maintenance and repairs and would come at the expense of other state universities’ budgets.

Republican Rep. Don Hill of Emporia said he supported the proposal because he believes more state money should be invested in education in general, but said it was a difficult decision in hard budget times.

“We’re not in a position of abundance right now, we’re in a position of great scarcity and therein lies the frustration and the dilemma that we have today,” he said.