Kansas House starts and stops on way to passing budget bill

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JIM O’MALLY
by Jim O’Malley

KPA Legislative News Service

TOPEKA-The House had some trouble making up its mind, but passed a budget bill Friday.

The House began with a budget bill that proposed to fill the state’s $700 million budget shortfall entirely with spending cuts. After two days of debate, and amendments restoring funds for education and social services, the bill was $129 million in the red.

Wednesday, the House rejected the amended bill, but reconsidered it Thursday and passed it Friday.

The original budget bill would have cut K-12 education by $170 million and higher education by $26 million. It would also have cut social service programs by $27 million more than the governor’s recommendation, and required unpaid furloughs by state employees.

The House rejected furloughs by adopting an amendment offered by Roger Toelkes, D-Topeka.

Rep. Doug Mays, R-Topeka, offered a series of amendments backed by House conservatives that balanced the budget with smaller spending cuts by shifting money from other state funds.

Mays told members the amendments would produce a balanced budget that reduced state spending by $228 million, kept state aid to school districts level, put $13 million back in higher education and put more than $25 million back in social services.

He said the money to pay for the reduced cuts could be found in other state funds. Reducing the State General Fund ending balance from 7.5 percent to 5 percent would provide $104 million. Shifting some federal health care funds would produce $83 million and a fund for children’s programs would yield $20 million.

Mays said the money would prevent cuts in education, which was a children’s program. Taking funds intended for aid to local governments would yield $11 million.

But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, said Mays’ amendments would use $228 million of “one-time money” in the state’s basic budget. This would just push the debt off until 2004, Wilk said.

“We’re using one-time money to avoid a tax increase,” Mays said. If the economy recovers, a tax increase may not be necessary, he said.

Tony Powell, R-Wichita, said many voters and legislators wanted an alternative to the choice between massive cuts or massive tax increases offered by the governor and the House leadership.

The $365 million tax increase proposed by the governor would kill any economic recovery in the state. It was better to take money from the ending balance and other idle funds than $365 million from working Kansans, he said.

But others opposed taking money from the health care funds. Rocky Nichols, D-Topeka, said it was important not to raid funds intended to help the elderly pay for prescription medication. And it wasn’t certain the state would get the $83 million from the federal government.

Other opponents said taking local government aid money would result in increases in local property taxes.

Among the amendments the House adopted before voting on the underlying bill were:

— A measure rejecting unpaid furloughs by state employees (82-35);

— A measure prohibiting state agencies from using unspent salary funds for other purposes (93-28);

— A measure reducing the State General Fund ending balance from 7.5 percent to 5 percent (65-56);

— A measure keeping state aid to school districts at its current level;

— A measure reducing cuts in higher education by $13 million (100-21);

— Measures reducing social services cuts by $25 million,

— A measure increasing state aid to schools by $10 per pupil (120-2);

— A measure restoring $1.5 million to the state’s arts commission (68-44);

— A measure restoring funding for the Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City (73-41)

But because the House rejected using the funds other than general fund ending balance, the amended bill was $129 million in the red.

“We’re more effective at spending money than at raising money, if anyone had any doubt about it,” Wilk said. “I hope we have the same will to raise revenue.”

Clay Aurand, R-Courtland, said: “This is a bill that only Arthur Andersen could love. It doesn’t balance. If you think we’re getting out of here without a tax increase, you’re wrong.”

Some members said the bill cut too deep. Ward Loyd, R-Garden City, said the bill left higher education transportation underfunded. Rocky Nichols agreed, and said the bill also cut programs such as in-home services for seniors and Meals on Wheels.

The bill initially failed 46-76 Thursday. Thirty-one Republicans and 45 Democrats voted against the bill, and 46 Republicans voted for it.

House Speaker Kent Glasscock, R-Manhattan, said the votes showed where the House’s priorities were.

Mays said the House had taken the ugliest budget either chamber has ever seen and turned it into something reflecting the priorities of legislators and citizens. But since the House rejected the funding he had proposed, the bill didn’t balance.

“I believe it’s still possible to get out without raising taxes,” Mays said.

But he wasn’t sure whether there were enough other members who agreed with him.

In any case, the vote rejecting the bill left the House going back to square one on the budget with the session running out, Mays said.

Concern about the lack of a budget late in the session led House leadership to call for a vote to reconsider the budget bill Thursday. The House voted to advance the measure to final action Friday, when it passed 63-60. All 46 Democrats present voted against the bill, along with 14 Republicans.

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