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Legislators see movement in budget talks

TOPEKA — Kansas legislators met late into Tuesday night in hopes of concluding their negotiations over a $14 billion state budget, resolving differences over education funding.

The session between House and Senate negotiators came after Gov. Sam Brownback said he'd met with leaders of the GOP-controlled Legislature to give them a framework for the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The key issue has been House Republicans' demand that the budget leave $50 million in cash reserves at the end of June 2012. Senators have been willing to sacrifice that cushion to lessen cuts in education and social services.

Brownback declined to say how much he would agree to in an ending balance.

Legislators can't end their annual session until each chamber votes on a final budget. Tuesday was their 88th day in session out of 90 scheduled.

The next budget is likely to cut overall state spending between 5 and 6 percent to close a projected shortfall. Much of the total reductions, between $770 million and $870 million, will reflect the end of federal economic stimulus funds.

During Tuesday's talks, House Republicans moved away from their position in favor of cutting general aid to the state's 289 public school districts by $250 per student, or 6.2 percent. They embraced Brownback's position, a cut of $232 per student.

The Senate had approved a $226-per-student cut, hoping to keep the reduction as small as possible but moved toward accepting Brownback's proposal.

Legislators also differ over how to count $25 million in revenue the state collected in April. The House has been reluctant to count that unexpected bump and prefers to find cuts to increase the bottom line, not rely on windfalls.

"The Senate believes that is real money. I think it should be included," said Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican and her chamber's lead negotiator.

House negotiators also gave up on a proposed $5.5 million cut in state aid to Washburn University of Topeka, half of its total, and the elimination of nearly $1.5 million in operating grants for public broadcasting stations.

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