More than $300 million from a state investment fund may be on its way to helping Kansas mend its budget woes.
The House budget committee on Monday approved borrowing the money from a long-term investment fund to help make it through the last few months of the budget year.
The move by lawmakers would likely shield the state from making deeper budget cuts.
The loan, which lawmakers say would be paid back over a roughly seven-year span, would help the state overcome about a $320 million shortfall with around five months left until the budget year ends on June 30.
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“We are in a very fiscally strained position for ’17,” said Rep. Troy Waymaster, R-Bunker Hill, chairman of the House budget committee.
The measure still needs legislative approval from both the full House and Senate before it can be made official.
“I didn’t feel we had any other option left,” Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said after voting to move the bill forward.
Gov. Sam Brownback asked the Legislature to sweep the money from the long-term investment fund when he made his budget proposal last month.
That move was received with tepid support from lawmakers, while other portions of the governor’s budget for 2018 and 2019 were met with criticism from both Democratic and Republican leaders.
Not all the House lawmakers on the committee supported borrowing the money and the 2017 budget bill that accompanied the legislation.
The state treasurer’s office said last month that the fund has around $364 million.
Rep. Henry Helgerson, D-Wichita, said he was worried the Legislature would fail to fulfill its promise to pay back the money.
“Going down the road of borrowing money for operating expenses is not the best policy for this state, and it’s putting us in a very precarious position,” he said. “I wish the governor had made other decisions earlier on.
“But borrowing this money … I’m almost positive it’ll never be paid back for as long as I’m in the Legislature.”
The bill passed out of the House panel Monday is different from the one Senate counterparts moved forward last week.
The Senate budget committee had agreed to take $100 million from the investment fund and close the rest of the gap with budget cuts that included taking around $150 million from K-12 and higher education.
The proposal, backed by Republican Senate leaders, failed to make it to a floor vote last week after support for the budget cuts and a bill with tax increases fell apart.
Some members of the House committee pointed to those proposed cuts to education as a reason for agreeing to take all the money they could from the long-term investment fund.
Waymaster said the move to borrow the money from the fund wasn’t ideal but that it was necessary to balance the budget this year “whether or not we like the particulars.”
“It’s the best of the bad options,” Waymaster said.