Politics & Government

Senators advance bill that cuts state budget

TOPEKA — Senators tentatively approved a bill Monday that cuts both general state aid to school districts and pay for statewide elected officials, though not as deeply as conservative Republicans and Gov. Sam Brownback had suggested.

The bill would give leave the state with about $3.6 million on June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. That money would be applied to the 2012 budget, which is projected to have a $492 million shortfall.

Conservatives wanted to undo the work done by the Senate's budget committee and go with the cuts recommended by Brownback. The Republican's proposal, largely followed by the House's budget bill passed last week, would leave Kansas with closer to $35 million at the end of this budget year.

"The thing people out there want is us to get our budget in order. I will not go along with a spending budget," said Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.

Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, offered the amendment to strip spending increases, saying the state still had a few months to go in the current fiscal year and revenue could improve. He also said there were at least two more budget bills to be adopted this session for the cuts to be restored.

"We're moving ahead with the information that's out there," Masterson said.

All eight Senate Democrats and 15 Republicans joined to defeat Masterson's amendment, 23-16.

The primary issue was the Senate committee's desire to spend $26.3 million more this year on special education to avoid losing federal funds in future budget years. The concern is whether Kansas is maintaining its spending level for special-education programs at mandated federal levels.

If the state falls below federal guidelines it faces penalties in future budget years. Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn said those funds won't ever be replaced, even if Kansas maintains its funding levels going forward.

McGinn described the expenditure as "paying it forward" to prevent future loss of funds. She argued with conservatives that waiting until later in the budget process for 2012 was no guarantee that Kansas would meet its funding requirement or school districts wouldn't face uncertainty in setting future budgets.

"But it's a 2011 budget issue and we need to deal with it within the 2011 budget," said McGinn, R-Sedgwick.

She said she has instructed budget subcommittees to follow Brownback's 2012 recommendations and look for other areas to trim. That message will be driven home further, she said, if the special education funding increase is adopted.

"I'm glad we made progress. It's still comforting to have a governor with new ideas," McGinn said.

School districts will face about a $60-per-pupil cut in general state aid in the current year in the Senate bill. Senators added $1.4 million to partially cover an increase in statewide enrollment and $4.3 million for programs aimed at students on free- and reduced-priced lunches.

The House budget follows the governor's recommendation and cuts general aid to the 289 Kansas school districts by $75 per student.

The Senate plan also includes a 7.5 percent pay cut for statewide elected officials, judges, justices of the Kansas Supreme Court, agency heads and other constitutional officers. The cut saves about $964,000 through June 30.

The House budget version makes a similar cut, but also includes employees of the Kansas Board of Regents that make more than $100,000.

Both chambers would cut $1.3 million in unused funds to increase the salaries of some state employees who make below the average wage for their position in the private sector.