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Senate looking to fill a $412 million budget hole

TOPEKA – After two-and-a-half-days of wrestling with the revenue numbers, a Senate panel is close to wrapping up work on the 2011 budget.

When they started on Monday the budget proposal cut about $100 million from state spending and had needed a little more than $350 million in revenue increases to fill the remaining gap.

The 2011 budget begins July 1.

Since then, Senators on the Ways and Means Committee have added money back in bit by bit so the current revenue shortfall is $412 million.

About $40 million of that is money lawmakers added back in, said committee Chairman Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg.

About 17 programs carry a proviso that sent lawmakers on the panel into a tizzy before they took a break for lunch at about 1 p.m.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, had attached a proviso to some of the spending restorations which stipulates that if lawmakers don’t pass a $412 tax increase package the spending allocations for those restorations will be eliminated.

All along, Emler has warned his committee that if they added money to the budget, they had to be willing to pass a revenue enhancement to cover the costs.

Vratil’s proviso would seem to give lawmakers whose pet projects have money on the line a little extra incentive to vote for whatever tax increase package the committee forms this afternoon.

This could be more important if the Senate budget proposal is voted on in the House where there has been far more resistance to voting for tax increases in any form.

Vratil attached the proviso to several spending enhancements with minimal resistance. Shortly before lunch, that changed and several lawmakers started to worry about the proviso’s impact if both chambers couldn’t pass a $412 million tax bill.

The panel will resume its discussion after lunch.

The committee is under a time crunch since they only have their budget staff until the end of today.

Emler has said he plans to finish work on the tax package today.

On Thursday and Friday the House Appropriations Committee is meeting to hammer out its chamber’s budget proposal.

For more, read Thursday’s Wichita Eagle.

REPORTER’S NOTE: I’m working on getting a list of the 17 items that have the proviso attached to them. I’m hoping to have that shortly after the committee returns from lunch at about 2:10 p.m.

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