Kansas House passes budget reduction bill

TOPEKA | The House finished its work Thursday on a bill to cut the current state budget by some $306 million.

By a vote of 74-48, the bill goes back to the Senate for consideration. It was expected that negotiators from each chamber would begin meeting later in the day to work out a final compromise.

The House version is similar in reductions to the Senate plan, both cutting the state's fiscal year 2009 budget, which runs through June 30.

Less than half the House changes are spending cuts, with the rest coming from accounting changes and refinancing state bonds.

On Wednesday, legislative researchers projected a deficit of $199 million, based on revenue collections through January. But many legislators expect revenues to continue falling short of expectations, causing the gap to grow.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder said the rescission bill went a long ways toward solving the budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

"It's not as much as we wanted, but it's a good product that generated consensus. It was a compromise," said Yoder, an Overland Park Republican.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement saying she was pleased that the House version avoided across-the-board cuts in essential services. But she didn't like education cuts that are deeper than what the Senate adopted.

"I am hopeful the House and Senate will swiftly reach a reasonable compromise in conference committee, so we can move on to the work that must be done on the 2010 budget," Sebelius said.

The governor has said that a realistic goal should be $300 million in reductions in the current budget, based on declining revenues and the outlook for the next fiscal year. Left unchecked, researchers have said the 2010 budget could have a deficit of nearly $1 billion. The Kansas Constitution mandates a balanced budget.

The House version cuts education spending by $66 per student for the state's 295 school districts. Many Democrats argued Wednesday that the cuts were too deep and gave districts few options with only a few months remaining in the school year.

Senators cut school spending by $7 million in their version.

Kansas has increased school spending by $892 million over the past four years because of a 2005 Kansas Supreme Court decision. That ruling said the state was failing to provide an adequate system for funding public schools.

Legislators have said education remains a top priority, but excluding schools from cuts means deeper cuts in other programs, such as public safety and social services.