Senate approves budget 28-11

TOPEKA — The Senate passed a state budget late Thursday, amid some complaints that it cuts funding for public schools too deeply and gives up on bringing government worker pay up to the standards of other states.

Republicans said the budget is a responsible document to start restructuring the delivery of public services in a more efficient manner.

"This budget goes to great efforts to help our government be responsible in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression," said Sen. Garrett Love, R-Montezuma. "It goes to great efforts to help our government live within its means just like our families do."

Gov. Sam Brownback said earlier Thursday that he wanted the budget to pass without any Democratic votes and in the Senate, at least, he got his wish.

"We are needlessly balancing the budget on the backs of our hardworking state employees and at the expense of our schoolchildren," said House Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. "This budget will cut funding for Kansas public schools by $232 per student next year, resulting in teacher layoffs, school closures and increased class sizes."

The vote in the Senate was 28-11 and came late on the 90th day of a scheduled 90-day session.

The House was moving toward taking up the budget late Thursday.

The budget sets overall spending at $14.749 billion for fiscal 2011, which ends June 30.

For fiscal 2012, spending will dip to $13.876 billion.

The spending plans approved by House and Senate budget committees represent a two-year total of $48.3 million less than Gov. Sam Brownback proposed in his budget plan in January.

State general fund spending will rise slightly from 2011 to 2012.

The legislative budget plans $5.76 billion in general fund spending for this fiscal year and $6.05 billion in 2012.

The legislative plan cuts $61.3 million from the governor's recommendation.

One area where the Legislature and governor are now in accord is per-pupil education spending.

At the beginning of this fiscal year, schools were forecast to get basic funding of $4,012 per pupil.

Using a process called allocation, which allows governors to cut budgets when revenue comes up short, Brownback has already trimmed school spending to $3,990 per pupil for this fiscal year.

For next year, he proposed dropping that to $3,780 per pupil.

In their adopted budgets, the Senate wanted to cut slightly less to $3,786; the House wanted to cut more, to $3,762.

But after months of wrangling and argument, House and Senate negotiators settled on the governor's original January proposal, agreeing to the $3,780.

The budget substantially reduces the number of state employees.

In last year's budget, legislators projected state employment for this year at 41,521 full-time equivalent positions.

That's already dropped to 41,147.

Next year's budget plans for 39,184 positions, the lowest number of state employees since 2002.

The legislative budget funds about 40 more full-time equivalent positions than the governor's plan.

In an issue of local interest, the final budget includes $5 million to continue to subsidize low-cost airline service to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

The program, known as "Affordable Airfares" or "Fair Fares," was taken out of the budget by the House.

That caused some anxiety for Wichita city officials who depend on the program to subsidize service by AirTran Airways, a low-fare carrier whose presence in the market helps push down prices across all airlines serving the airport.

One of the big battles of the budget year was settled mostly in favor of the House when the Senate acceded to carrying over a projected $71.8 million ending balance.

The Senate had originally proposed smaller budget cuts with about an $11 million ending balance. The House wanted deeper cuts and an ending balance of about $80 million.

Hensley blasted the House for banking tens of millions of dollars instead of funding services.

"To them,(House members) a $72 million ending balance is more important than the well-being of school children, disabled and elderly citizens and our state workforce," he said.

The budget also contains two items that Brownback is expected to remove, using his power to veto individual budget provisions. 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.

Brownback said Thursday that he was considering a veto but wouldn't say for certain whether the arts funding was dead. However, the arts commission's staff was laid off earlier this week, effective June 10, in anticipation that funding would be eliminated next fiscal year.

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