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Senate committee starts budget work

TOPEKA – The Senate Ways and Means Committee started its review of the 2011 budget Monday morning.

Lawmakers are looking at ways to close a budget gap that is between $450 and $500 million depending on the spending package under consideration. The fiscal year starts July 1.

Both chambers had postponed debating their respective budget proposals until hearing revised revenue predictions. The new revenue estimate came out Friday.

Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, said he anticipated his committee would finish work on the budget proposal today or Tuesday. The panel would then turn its attention to a package that would help pay for the budget.

Gov. Mark Parkinson and leadership in the Senate have said the budget could not be balanced by cuts alone.

While the Senate tax committee did consider a package that would have raised taxes on cigarettes, tobacco products, alcohol and sugary drinks, nothing passed out of committee.

The House Appropriations Committee is set to meet Thursday and Friday to revise its budget proposal.

That proposal would not replace the federal education dollars with state money so public schools would see their budget decrease – although state spending on schools would stay flat.

The House budget also includes no tax increase which lawmakers would have to vote on. The proposal would most likely increase local property taxes as schools turned to tax payers in their districts to offset their decreased budgets.

Emler said he thought the budget committee’s revenue package could include taxes on those products and possibly and increase in the sales tax or discussion about the state’s income tax structure.

He said he’s warned his committee that they “have to be willing to vote for this package that funds the budget.”

The Senate proposal includes about $100 million in cuts to programs – mostly to social service type programs. It also includes plans to replace about $172 million in federal stimulus money, which is disappearing, with state funds and restore a 10 percent cut in payments to Medicaid provides.

Emler said the remainder of the shortfall would have to come by incrementing the revenues that Kansas brings in. That’s a nice way of saying raising taxes.

Prior to the new revenue estimates, the Senate package needed about $350 million in new money to balance, he said. The new number will be more, but Emler said there wouldn’t be an exact figure until the committee finished work on the budget.