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Fair fares stays in the state budget

TOPEKA - An effort to eliminate money from the state budget that is aimed at making Wichita air fares competitive went down in flames during the Senate’s budget debate Tuesday.

The proposal includes a 2.75 percent cut to all state government, including public schools and universities. Lawmakers are trying to plug a $328 million budget gap. The Senate’s proposal includes a mix of delayed tax cuts to increase revenue by $122.3 million and cuts to state government to the tune of about $154.5 million.

Kansas City, Kan. Democrat Sen. Chris Steineger suggested eliminating $5 million from the budget that goes to the fair fares program.

The idea met a hostile reception - ultimately Steineger was the only one to vote for the measure. A similar amendment failed during the House debate last Friday. The House failed to pass its budget bill.

"I think we need to save the five million per year,” he said. “That's my goal to save some money."

Lawmakers from throughout the state praised the program and opposed cutting the money.

"Why in the world would we abandon a project like this that has been wildly successful," asked Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood.

He noted the state recouped about $5.25 for ever dollar it spent on the program.

The program had been developed to help make air fair prices out of Wichita competitive, said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick.

"We were looking at ways to stop the bleeding for people going out of state to catch a flight in another state, we finally reversed that," she said.

Wichita Democrat Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau said eliminating the program would “be a step backwards.”

The amendment failed overwhelmingly.

The Senate is currently debating its budget proposal and could finish the bill this afternoon. Lawmakers are back in Topeka for a final wrap-up session where cutting more money from state budget is one of the top goals.