House approves $14.3 billion state budget; Senate to vote next

TOPEKA – After a swift half hour debate, the House approved the state's $14.3 billion budget this afternoon. The 80-35 vote sets the stage for the Senate to vote on it and, after a few more bills move through, end the legislative session in its 99th day.

The budget adds $40 million in education funding, which is less than the Senate had sought. It didn't include the property tax relief that many members wanted.

But the budget would leave the state with a 7.5 percent ending balance. Many suspect that could be eaten up by the massive income tax cut Gov. Sam Brownback is poised to sign this week.

Rep. Mark Rhoades, R-Newton and the House's chief budget negotiator, said that because the Senate wouldn't accept a milder tax-cutting plan, the state has less to spend on education and other services.

He said the plan that the Senate declined to debate would have freed-up about $150 million more for education. Rhoades said, like Brownback, he expects the tax cut to help boost the economy and create jobs. But he said it might take a few years, and that trimmed the amount he was willing to spend this year.

The budget represents a .7 percent increase in state general fund spending, but it's about a 3 percent drop in overall spending, largely because of reduced spending on unemployment as a result of an improving economy.

Overall, the bill authorizes 38,843 state employees – or about 307 less than last year's budget.

Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, said the budget didn't include enough property tax relief or funding for welfare programs to take care of the state's neediest.

"We are operating like a business," he said. "But sometimes the way business acts is not compassionate."

Rhoades said the state has to address a wide variety of social services and has to spread that money to many agencies for mental health care, food for low-income residents and other services.

Republicans strongly backed the budget because it left an ending balance and generally held spending down.

"I think we have a good budget for the state," Rhoades said.

It includes about $700,000 for the arts, which is now being reorganized as a creative industries commission. It also has about $1 million for Wichita's aquifer recharge project that takes water from the Little Arkansas River, purifies it and pumps it into the Equus Beds aquifer for municipal water use.

The budget also includes $5 million to subsidize low-cost air service, mostly at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport.