Politics & Government

House panel endorses revised budget

TOPEKA — The Kansas House Appropriations Committee finished work Friday on a revised 2011 budget that would leave the state with a surplus without raising taxes.

The budget restores earlier cuts planned for public schools and social services, leaving Kansas government with an estimated ending balance of $11 million on June 30, 2011.

"There are still some painful decisions that had to be made to balance the budget," said House Appropriations Chairman Kevin Yoder, R- Overland Park. "I know there are some who would like to spend more."

The recommendation now goes to the full House for debate. The budget of more than $13 billion from state and federal revenue sources does not require tax increases to balance.

A Senate committee endorsed its version of the $13 billion budget Wednesday, but it would require about $412 million in new taxes to balance. Efforts to write a tax bill have stalled, but will resume next week.

"If theirs is truly balanced, we need to take a serious look at it," said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg.

In its latest consensus revenue report, a group of Kansas economists and researchers projected that the state will end the current fiscal year with an $89 million shortfall. That figure balloons in the fiscal year beginning July 1 to $510 million under a budget proposal by Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson.

The House and Senate budget bills will be considered when the Republican-controlled Legislature returns Wednesday from a nearly monthlong break. No date has been scheduled for the budget debates. Negotiators will settle on a final version of the budget once each chamber has approved its proposals.

"We look forward to the debate on the floor," said Rep. Bill Feuerborn of Garnett, the ranking Democrat on the House panel. "The budget is a little better than it was, but I still have great concerns."

The House plan to cut public education had raised concerns that it would force the state's 293 school districts to raise local property taxes to cover the shortfall. As proposed, those tax increases would not be required, but overall state spending on K-12 education would be reduced by about $86 million.

The cut reflected an earlier House position not to replace federal stimulus dollars used in the 2010 budget for schools. Language was added to the bill that would require the state to make the first 11 school aid payments to districts on time. Those payments have frequently been delayed several days or weeks during the current budget year because the state lacked enough cash.

If approved, the provision could give Kansas the flexibility to balance the budget by making the last payment in the next fiscal year. Schools would get the same amount of money they are owed, but the date of the payment would count toward the following fiscal year.

Such a scenario is likely this June to keep the state from ending with a deficit, prohibited by the Kansas Constitution.

Under the Senate plan, new state revenue would replace the federal dollars, meaning no cuts for school districts.

House members also restored about $6.9 million in cuts to social services for the developmentally and physically disabled, tapping a trust fund generated by oil and gas production revenue to cover the cost.