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Sunday, March 30, 2014

House committee advances proposed $14 billion Kansas budget


Associated Press

TOPEKA – A Kansas House panel on Tuesday finished writing a proposed $14 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts in July.

The House Appropriations Committee made its final changes to the plan, which also contains supplemental funding sought by Gov. Sam Brownback for the current budget year, including $24.6 million for public schools.

Committee chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said the House will probably debate the bill next week, although the chamber could take it up later this week. Rhoades said other issues, including the confrontation between House and Senate Republican leaders over redistricting, were complicating the timing of the debate.

“It’s really out of my hands,” Rhoades said. “When the bill runs depends on when the Senate gets finished with its maps.”

Rep. Bill Feuerborn, D-Garnett, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said there wasn’t much his party liked about the new House plan, including taking the money for schools for the remainder of the 2012 budget from highway revenue.

“The Senate has a much better bill,” said Feuerborn. “This is not the position of the Democrats that are elected feel we should take.”

The Senate expects to begin debating its version of the budget on Wednesday. That plan also spends roughly $14 billion from all revenue sources, including $6 billion in state taxes and fees.

Members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee followed much the same proposal from Brownback on spending, but it added money for a fourth year of a state employee pay plan and provided longevity bonuses for employees with 10 years of experience or longer.

The pay plan resumes a program in which the wages of some employees were targeted for increases to bring them in line with private sector counterparts.

Both House and Senate versions include close to $50 million requested by Brownback to cover increased social service caseloads in the current year.

The House budget also includes additional money for staff at the Larned State Hospital to comply with federal guidelines for nurses. Feuerborn said the money was a “short-term fix” to funding state hospitals.

Rhoades said a review would be taken by the Department of Aging to determine staffing needs on a case-by-case basis.

House and Senate negotiators will hammer out a final product once each chamber passes its budget plan. Rhoades described the two chambers as “85 to 90 percent” finished with spending issues, with about 40 items to be worked out by negotiators.

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