Politics & Government

Kansas House, Senate leaders negotiate tentative budget proposal

State colleges would face a 3 percent budget cut over two years, but the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita would be insulated from the reductions under a proposal House and Senate negotiators tentatively agreed to Tuesday.

Reduced funding for higher education was at the core of a disagreement between House Republicans, who had pushed for a 4 percent cut, and the Senate, which backed a 2 percent cut. Gov. Sam Brownback, meanwhile, had flown around the state to visit universities and advocate for flat funding.

“We’re concerned about the direction higher ed is going in terms of the cost, in terms of the increased tuition costs that we keep getting handed to our kids,” said Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton.

Big paychecks for coaches, specialized professors and infrastructure are chief concerns, he said, noting he would like to see more innovation in online education and fewer new buildings on campuses.

House and Senate GOP budget leaders reached a general agreement on the state’s spending plan, but they don’t plan to formally agree until lawmakers sign on to a compromise tax policy plan.

The budget reductions also include a $2 million reduction for the National Center for Aviation Training in Wichita.

Lawmakers decided that a proposal to ban the implementation of Common Core standards in K-12 schools can’t be attached to the budget, as had been proposed, because it hasn’t been vetted by either the House or Senate.

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said she expects the budget will put additional pressure on universities.

“This just forces the problem down to tuition and fees,” she said.

And she predicted local school districts will be forced to ask local taxpayers to provide more property taxes to pay for K-12 schools.

“They’ve already tightened their belts about as much as they can,” she said.

Meanwhile, budget negotiators attempted to appease both sides of an ongoing debate about whether to include developmentally disabled Kansans in the state’s new managed care Medicaid program, KanCare. It would include them but offer assurances about services and providers.

Many moderate Republicans and Democrats say the state should respond to concerns voiced by thousands of developmentally disabled Kansans and their advocates who worry that the three private insurance companies won’t provide the services they need.

Other Republicans say the state needs the savings provided by the inclusion of long-term care for the developmentally disabled and that their concerns are based on misinformation.

So lawmakers are now poised to inject into the budget language that seeks to promise people with intellectual or developmental disabilities that they may keep their current providers and that KanCare will provide adequate services and make efforts to ease people through the transition.