Politics & Government

Senate would spend governor's savings

TOPEKA — A Kansas Senate budget committee on Thursday endorsed its version of a budget bill that would spend nearly all the savings sought by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

Brownback wants to trim state spending to end up with $35 million in reserves at the start of fiscal 2012.

The bill advanced by the Ways and Means Committee aims to spend an additional $31 million on education, including $25.3 million for special education to prevent anticipated cuts in federal funding. Senators also included $2 million for disaster relief.

"We're truly talking about the loss of hundreds of millions of down the road," said Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a member of the budget committee.

The bill is in stark contrast to the version approved by the House earlier in the week, which didn't increase education funding. The House bill saves about $35 million, which will be applied to next year's budget.

Emler said the full Senate will debate the spending bill Monday and take final action Tuesday. House and Senate negotiators could have a final version to the governor by the end of the week if they can resolve differences quickly.

Brownback has proposed freezing government spending and using the savings to help close a projected $492 million shortfall between anticipated revenue and current spending obligations.

The governor has also proposed reorganizing state agencies, including abolishing the Kansas Arts Commission and creating a private council. It would function in a similar way to the Kansas Humanities Council, which is under the Kansas Historical Society.

Supporters of the arts held a rally at the Statehouse protesting Brownback's decision, saying it would hurt the Kansas arts community and cost jobs.

"When Gov. Brownback looks at the budget he sees nothing but dollar signs," said Kenny Johnston, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party. "Hopefully today's rally will show him that behind those dollars signs is a vibrant community of Kansans whose jobs, lives and happiness are profoundly affected by the choices he makes."

Brownback said during a news conference outlining his economic strategy that he had nothing against the arts, but thought they would flourish through increased contributions as a private foundation.

"My intent with this, as this moves forward, there will be more money in the arts, rather than less. I think the government claim on the field has reduced the amount of total money in the arts sphere," Brownback said. "What we are putting in place will increase the total resource. We need to grow the arts community."