Politics & Government

Lawmakers reach compromise on budget

TOPEKA — A panel of Kansas lawmakers Wednesday night forged an agreement on a spending plan that cuts into schools and social services.

Senate and House negotiators agreed to go with Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal to reduce state base aid for schools by about $104 million because of exhausted federal stimulus funds.

The proposed $14 billion budget also calls for a nearly $10 million cut in social services and a nearly $6 million cut in state agencies. The $6 million is in addition to a nearly 2 percent cut to state agencies that was added to the budget in the House.

The budget proposal, which cuts overall spending between 5 percent and 6 percent, will likely be voted on by the full Legislature on Friday or Saturday. Most of the reduction stems from the drop-off in stimulus funds.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, the lead negotiator for her chamber, called the cuts in social services "severe."

The proposed budget could "wake up a population of individuals that are going to find out what services government provides because there's going to be a lot of these services that are no longer there," McGinn said.

On education, Brownback had proposed funding state base aid per pupil at $3,780 next year, down from the $4,012 that schools received at the start of the current fiscal year.

His position essentially represented middle ground between the House and the Senate as the two chambers wrangled over the budget.

The Senate had wanted to fund schools at $3,786 per student, while the House wanted to pare education funding to $3,762 per pupil.

Some school officials were relieved the cuts weren't worse.

"We probably weren't going to do much better than that this session, that's the sad part," said Bill Reardon, lobbyist for the Kansas City, Kan., school district. "This is better than some options I saw earlier, but I can't bring myself to support this."

The budget increases state general fund expenses to about $6 billion in 2012 from about $5.7 billion in the year ending June 30. It also contains a $50 million rainy day fund that House leaders had been pushing for to avoid midyear budget cuts.

Brownback praised the Legislature for turning a half-billion-dollar deficit into a $50 million surplus, calling it "a great victory for Kansas."

Although some lawmakers grumbled that the Legislature isn't cutting enough, Republican House Speaker Mike O'Neal was optimistic the budget would pass.

"I think this budget meets the expectations of the majority of the House," O'Neal said.

"There will be people who will vote no because there are too many cuts. There will be people who vote no because there aren't enough. What this budget is for is those in the middle."

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, called the budget proposal "the compromise we were hoping for."

"We've put together a solution that cuts spending and forces government to live within its means without jeopardizing the state we know and love."

Some of the last issues negotiators resolved were judicial branch funding, a shortfall in special education funding to satisfy federal requirements and funding for the state's KAN-Ed program that provides high-speed, broadband Internet access to more than 400 schools, colleges, libraries and hospitals.

The budget plan also will authorize $34 million in new bonds for an ongoing renovation of the Statehouse, bringing its total projected cost to $319 million.

The budget also preserves an $11 million state operating grant to Washburn University of Topeka, which the House had sought to cut in half, and $5 million to subsidize airline service in south-central Kansas.

Also under the budget, the Kansas Neurological Institute, the state's hospital for the developmentally disabled in Topeka, would remain open. Brownback had proposed closing it by mid-2013.

It also contains two items that Brownback is expected to veto. The first provides $1.5 million in operating grants to public broadcasting stations, and the second keeps the Kansas Arts Commission alive by giving it $689,000.

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