Make a budget deal

Way back on Jan. 12, Gov. Sam Brownback asked the Legislature to have a “spending freeze bill” for the current year’s state budget on his “desk for signature before the end of the month.” Now, both January and February have passed without the House and Senate agreeing on such a rescission bill. If the two chambers’ negotiations don’t deliver soon after the Legislature reconvenes Wednesday, Brownback needs to step in and lead the way to a responsible resolution.

It’s not as if bipartisanship is required either: Both chambers are controlled by the governor’s party, the GOP. In 2009, when the governor was a Democrat, the much-contested bill reducing that current-year’s state budget was finished by Feb. 17.

“My hope is that we’re going to come to the table, negotiate and have some compromise,” Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said Sunday on KPTS’ “Ask Your Legislator.”

The delay this time may not seem like a big deal in Topeka. But each day that passes gives state agencies, school districts and others that rely on state funding less time between now and July 1 to account for the state’s cuts.

Since each chamber passed its version of the bill, progress has been made in reconciling the differences. But disagreement remains over how to cut the budget while protecting the state’s ability to secure special education funding into the future.

The Senate proposal includes $26 million to ensure the federal aid for special ed continues; the House version, which Brownback favors, does not. The most likely compromise is imperfect, covering the obligation by diverting scheduled contributions to the state employee pension fund and settling for a minuscule ending balance for the fiscal year. But it beats the alternative, which House negotiators preferred as of last week — diverting the pension payment now and, as of July 1, cutting K-12 public schools’ base aid from the state by another $40 per student beyond the $232 per-pupil cut Brownback seeks.

Kansas school districts are federally mandated to provide special education services. They should not have to raid other classroom funding to do so, or watch as state leaders irresponsibly forfeit future federal special-ed dollars to which Kansas schools are entitled.

In any case, it’s past time to finish the current budget and focus on the even bigger challenge of the next one.