TOPEKA | Moderate Republicans and Democrats in the Kansas House pushed through legislation today that cuts the state budget deficit to $70 million and minimizes additional cuts to public schools.
The legislation, which won earlier approval in the Senate, now heads to Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, who is expected to sign it. It cuts $138 million in spending in the budget that takes effect in July.
The legislation aims to eliminate the state's $328 million deficit. Lawmakers have already cut hundreds of millions of dollars of state spending. With the easier cuts already approved, lawmakers struggled to find the last few items in the budget they could trim.
Balancing the state budget has been this year's main legislative challenge. With the deficit almost erased, lawmakers are expected to adjourn for the year, possibly as soon as Friday.
Key points to the final budget-cutting bill:
* Schools would see their state funding reduced by $82 million. That's less than alternative proposals.
* Most other state agencies would see their funding cut by 2.75 percent.
* Local governments lose out, too. The legislation passed Thursday would withhold money that lawmakers had promised to cities and counties to offset business tax cuts approved by lawmakers in previous sessions.
After the vote, Parkinson called the legislation "the right approach." "This budget reflects the sacrifice all Kansans must make in this difficult economic time," he said in a statement. "While this budget contains modest cuts to most state programs, the cuts are more responsible that earlier proposals."
Conservative Republicans, including the leaders of the Kansas House, preferred plans to use deeper cuts to eliminate the deficit entirely. But two of their plans failed, and they were thwarted again when Democrats and moderate Republicans used a parliamentary maneuver to force a vote on the Senate's alternative.
"The public wants us to act in a bipartisan manner, and that's what we did today," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. "We've been here for I don't know how many days, and it was time for us to find some solutions."
Rep. Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican who leads the budget committee, argued against the Senate plan.
Yoder noted that the legislation still leaves a $70 million deficit, and actually cuts some programs, such as state prisons and law enforcement, more than earlier House plans that were rejected.
"It has an over $70 million hole to fill," he said. And he said the House would be abdicating its role. "It takes the House out of the process. A vote yes here says 'you know what, we don't want the House process to work. We're just going to go with what the Senate did."