Kansas delays pension payments and school aid

TOPEKA | Kansas has postponed a contribution to educators' pensions and again delayed half of its general state aid payments to public schools because of a cash crunch, a state Department of Education official confirmed today.

Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis told The Associated Press that the two delayed items together total about $124 million. It's the second consecutive month that the state has delayed part of its payments to its 289 school districts so that it can cover other bills.

The state was supposed to provide $130 million in monthly general aid payments to school districts Tuesday but sent out only half that amount. Dennis said he expects the remaining $65 million to be paid "in the very near future."

But the state's quarterly $59 million contribution to the pension plan for teachers and other educators was due Jan. 14 and still hasn't been paid, Dennis said. He did not know when it will be made.

"It's cash flow," Dennis said.

The state took the actions even though its financial picture appeared to brighten after better-than-expected tax revenue collections in January.

Kansas faces a projected $550 million shortfall between anticipated revenues and current spending commitments for the fiscal year that begins July 1. However, legislative researchers are expected to revise that figure in light of January's revenues.

The state often faces cash crunches early in the year because bills come due well before the state collects the bulk of its individual income tax revenues in the spring. State officials usually anticipate that a short delay in aid payments to schools won't cause significant problems for them, making it a first option.

Dennis said school districts in January received semiannual revenues from property taxes collected locally, making the delay in part of February's aid payments less problematic.

Meanwhile, legislators continue to wrestle with closing the budget gap. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed trimming spending from the current budget, allowing the savings to roll over into the next fiscal year, to help reduce the shortfall, and the House is scheduled to debate a bill Tuesday.

But ahead of that debate, Speaker Mike O'Neal and other members of the chamber's GOP majority are pushing a rules change that will make it more difficult for members to propose spending increases when debating budget bills on the floor.

The new rule would prohibit members from proposing amendments to add spending in one part of the budget unless they also propose to offset the increase with cuts elsewhere. The House's top Democrat is strongly criticizing the proposal.