Budget cuts approved by a Kansas Senate committee on Tuesday would take $154 million from K-12 education and other agencies to balance the state’s finances this fiscal year.
The bill is expected to make it to the Senate floor on Thursday, where lawmakers would debate whether to make the cuts with just about five months left in the fiscal year.
“We have to start the conversation,” Senate budget chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said after the cuts were handed out to lawmakers.
The Department of Education would be hit the hardest by the cuts, with $128 million coming from the agency that oversees K-12 education.
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Higher education would also be cut under the plan, with more than $22 million combined coming from the Kansas Board of Regents and colleges.
Four senators voted against moving the amended bill forward, including Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. Hensley said he’d prefer the state use the more than $300 million from a long-term investment fund to shield schools from that deep a cut this year.
That idea was first put forward in Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2017 budget plan to lawmakers last month.
“This is a huge cut to K-12 schools,” Hensley said. “I don’t know how they’re going to be able to explain to their constituents why they voted for it when they ran on a pro-education platform.”
Other senators, such as Sen. John Skubal, R-Overland Park, voted to move the bill forward.
He said after the meeting that he wanted the bill to come before the Senate but that he didn’t want to see that size of a cut made to education.
“There’s no good choices,” Skubal said. “We have been left with what I consider bad choices and worst choices, and to cut schools is not my preference whatsoever.”
The state has a roughly $320 million shortfall to solve before the end of June.
McGinn said the amended bill presented Tuesday would give the state an ending balance of around $75 million.
The actions to make that happen include cutting agency budgets by a combined $154 million and taking $100 million from the long-term investment fund.
“The governor’s plan puts us in further debt,” McGinn said. “We’re trying to balance a budget without putting us into increasing debt.”
Brownback said in a brief interview on Tuesday afternoon that he was glad efforts were being made to solve the shortfall.
The governor decided late last year to avoid making cuts himself to bridge that gap.
“You’ve got the legislative body that’s here dealing with the budget,” Brownback said. “I think that’s a superior way to go.”