Governor slices funds for schools, highways

TOPEKA — Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson carved $259 million more from the state budget on Monday, with cuts that especially affect education, highway repairs and Medicaid reimbursements.

"There is no way to sugar coat this," said Parkinson. "This will have very negative effects on the state."

He said the cuts will mean larger class sizes, teacher layoffs, reduced supervision of released prisoners, more disabled people waiting for services and less road maintenance.

But Rep. Jason Watkins, R-Wichita, said he had hoped the cuts would go further. He expects the Legislature to have to make more cuts when it returns in January.

This is the fifth round of cuts made to the budget that runs through next June as the state continues to adjust to declining tax revenue.

Watkins, vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said he continues to be surprised by the cuts state agencies have been able to absorb and still function.

"Apparently, we have yet to get to the bone of excess spending in government," he said. "Because we continue to cut and we continue to cut and these agencies stay open."

He said he does not think the answer to the state's budget problems lies in tax increases or elimination of tax exemptions.

Americans for Prosperity issued a statement applauding the governor's actions and urging him to continue to scrutinize all areas of the budget.

"It's our hope once the legislative session starts, that the Governor doesn't bow to the demands of taxpayer funded lobbyists calling for tax increases in this difficult economic time for Kansans," the release said.

The governor cannot raise taxes to balance this year's budget.

The governor said he would start working today on the 2011 budget, which begins July 1, and would analyze all the options. He did not rule out the possibility of a tax increase for 2011.

Education funding

Among the biggest cuts were $50 million from highway maintenance funds, $36 million less for kindergarten through 12th grade education, and a 10 percent reduction in Medicaid reimbursements for a savings of $22 million in the last three months of the budget year.

The governor also is using unspent money at many state agencies to help fill the budget gap. Departments will have to decide how to compensate for those cuts.

The cuts Monday, coupled with earlier cuts, mean education spending will return to 2006 levels.

The governor also said that schools will not get $155.8 million they had expected this budget year to cover the cost of increased student enrollment and decreased property tax revenue.

The Wichita school district had an increase of about 900 students this year, which would have meant additional money in a normal budget year, said Diane Gjerstad, lobbyist for the district.

Linda Jones, the district's chief financial officer, estimated Monday night that the cuts will cost the district $13.7 million.

Although schools will receive less money, they still must show improved test scores as set out in federal No Child Left Behind laws, she said.

"While our economy is struggling, the goals and the targets for schools aren't in a recession. They are marching forward," Gjerstad said.

Medicaid reimbursements

Medicaid, which provides health coverage for low-income people, had low reimbursement rates before Monday's cuts. The program pays for a broad range of services, including doctor's visits, nursing home and home-based care and assistance for people with disabilities.

Parkinson said he hoped doctors and other health care providers would continue to cover low-income patients.

Cathy Harding, executive director for the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, which represents safety net clinics, said those clinics are likely to see more Medicaid patients as some other medical practices stop accepting them.

"Any cut to reimbursements, the clinics are going to feel," she said. "Their budgets are marginal as it is."

"There's just no good news anywhere in this," said Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, a statewide umbrella organization that represents people with mental disabilities and their service providers.

Laing said people with physical and/or developmental disabilities and those who care for them will be among the hardest hit by the cuts in Medicaid provider rates.

Workers in the disability field are already low paid. Unlike those in the medical field, they can't raise prices for non-Medicaid customers to offset lost income, Laing said.

In addition, the governor's cuts include a $1.3 million reduction in developmental disability support grants. That money helps those who have some needs but don't qualify for Medicaid, he said.

"Whether you need a little bit (of services) or a lot, you're running a risk of your life spiraling in a really negative way," he said.

The news for nursing home and assisted living facilities isn't much better. Providers were already losing about $9 per resident per day from Medicaid patients, said Cindy Luxem, CEO of Kansas Health Care Association, which represents about 180 for-profit and nonprofit facilities.

The cuts are likely to be seen in the details — fewer evening snacks, fewer staff members or people working fewer hours, she said.

"When these facilities don't have the reimbursements, those are the kind of things that will get snipped away," she said.

With money for home- and community-based programs also being cut, Luxem said, nursing homes are likely to see more people coming into the system.

"This goes far beyond 'trimming the fat' from state agencies," said House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence. "These cuts are now doing severe harm to our public schools, community colleges and universities and the most vulnerable Kansans, who are relying on state services to survive this economic downturn."