Politics & Government

Parkinson cuts roads funding to fix budget

TOPEKA — The state's roads will be rougher and three HMOs will pay a fee as part of the solution Gov. Mark Parkinson proposed to close an $85 million shortfall in the current budget.

In announcing the cuts Friday, Parkinson, a Democrat, also chided lawmakers for embarking on what he said was a "tax-cutting binge over the last 20 years that has decimated our state revenue."

Senate President Stephen Morris, R-Hugoton, praised Parkinson's recommendations.

"He could wait and force us to deal with the issue," Morris said. "He's been very good about taking the bull by the horns. That's been very helpful."

Parkinson's move Friday "gives us a little bit of a leg up," Morris said.

Transportation took the biggest hit — $28 million that would have paid for maintenance projects throughout Kansas.

"Considering the winter that we've had, Kansans are going to see rougher pavement and more potholes, and we're going to be very limited in our ability to address them," Transportation Secretary Deb Miller said in a written statement.

Three Medicaid HMO's will contribute about $4 million through a 1 percent privilege fee for operating in Kansas. Parkinson also proposed not paying $12 million into the state pension's death and disability fund.

The state has recouped about $31 million: Spending on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families has been about $15 million less than anticipated, and the state has sent the federal government $16 million less than expected in Medicaid payments.

Parkinson also urged the Legislature to pass a primary seatbelt law, which would allow law enforcement to stop drivers for not wearing their seatbelts. If the legislators pass the law, which has cleared the Senate, Kansas would receive $11 million from the federal government, most of which could go to help with the budget problems.

Parkinson also used the announcement to push for tax increases, such as a 1 percentage point bump to the state sales tax, that he said weren't good public policy but were preferable to deeper cuts to public safety, education and the state's safety net programs.

He indicated that he was likely to veto tax cuts sent to his desk.

In a news conference Friday before Parkinson's announcement, Senate Republican leaders outlined plans to push for $300 million in tax increases to help close a $450 million budget gap for the 2011 budget.

Morris and Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, said GOP senators also want to trim spending from Parkinson's proposed budget.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, who sits on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said she anticipated a budget bill moving out of committee next week with about $100 million in cuts to state programs.

"These cuts are going to be devastating and ripple all the way back to our home communities," she said.

McGinn said she didn't think the 2011 budget could be balanced only with cuts.

House leaders panned Parkinson's tax ideas in a written statement.

"It is the government that cannot rein in its spending," said House Speaker Rep. Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson. "We should not punish Kansas families and businesses, whose hardships already far outweigh those of the government, by forcing them to contribute even more to fuel the state's addiction to spending."

O'Neal suggested more cuts could be made.

"Instead of pursuing tax increases that will only lead to higher unemployment and prolong the recession, I would urge the governor and Senate leadership to do the hard but necessary work of trimming the fat out of the state's budget," he said.

This is the second round of cuts Parkinson has made. In November he announced cuts to the current budget totaling about $260 million. Among the areas hardest hit were highway maintenance, education and Medicaid reimbursements.

Parkinson said he had hoped to avoid more cuts but revenue had dropped to such a state — $71 million less than anticipated in February — that he worried that without immediate cuts the state would face more draconian measures to make the current budget balance when the fiscal year ends June 30.

"We are long beyond the easy choices. There are no good choices out there," said House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence. "He's doing the Legislature's dirty work."