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House adopts cuts to 2011 Kansas budget

March 17, 2011

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TOPEKA, Kan.—A second attempt at cutting the 2011 state budget cleared the Kansas House on Wednesday, but it was a largely futile effort since the Senate appears to have no interest in considering a bill that doesn't include the 2012 budget.

Negotiations between the chambers broke down last week as they tried to work out differences between separate spending bills each had previously approved. The House and governor want enough cuts to save the state about $35 million, but the Senate is less willing to make such deep cuts.

The House version approved Wednesday would give the state about $35 million in reserves on June 30 and includes many of the cuts both sides agreed to, such as increasing special education spending to prevent a loss of federal funds, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades.

The bill also would ratify cuts and funding shifts imposed Friday by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. His actions, which Democrats said were legally premature, would make use of new federal dollars to replace a cut in public schools to get the state to the break-even point in June.

"This budget bill is the same bill that the governor put out," said Rhoades, a Newton Republican. "I can't predict what the Senate will do."

He added: "Our whole attempt was not to put one over on the Senate, or the House for that matter."

But the bill likely won't be debated in the Senate, which means a budget decision is unlikely before lawmakers recess in early April for three weeks.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn said the Senate won't ratify the governor's actions until it works the 2012 spending bill. Senators are nearing completion of the bill, but it's unclear if the full Senate will debate the package before the April break.

"We feel like we're running out of time and that's why we've included it in the 2012 bill," said McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican. "We're ready to move forward."

She said the Senate's version takes care of the special education while helping Brownback balance both the 2011 and 2012 budgets.

"We anticipate a positive ending balance," McGinn said.

Democrats, in the minority in both chambers, said the governor's actions are getting ahead of lawmakers. The issue is whether Brownback can claim he balanced the 2011 budget by shifting funds out of public schools and other agencies to shore up the books, and fund increase costs for social services.

Brownback's package requires spending $49.6 million on social services, including increased Medicaid costs for health care for the poor. To do that, the governor seeks to reduce state aid to schools by $75 per student, replacing most of the money with one-time federal funds released to the 289 Kansas school districts earlier this year.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis said the governor is getting ahead of the Legislature by making the cuts and spending the money on caseloads. Davis argued that state law requires legislators to appropriate the caseload money first, and then the governor could impose cuts to pay the bills.

"I don't think he has the authority to anything and above $7 million," said Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. "We have a law and we need to play by the rules."

In announcing his cuts, known technically as allotments, Brownback made the reductions contingent upon legislative action, a process used by previous governors forced to make cuts to balance the budget.

"The governor's allotments that were made on Friday clearly indicate that legislative action is required," said Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag. "We are very confident that the Legislature will appropriate funding for human and health services caseloads."