With budget approved, session nears an end

We passed a budget! That?s not exactly a surprise since we?re required to; but we passed a negotiated budget late Thursday at 18 p.m. OK, it was actually 6 a.m. Friday when we passed it, but by passing it ?late on Thursday,? we don?t get paid the extra day and at least we saved the state some money?one day?s legislative payroll.

In previous columns, I have discussed many of the issues reported on today, and you may want to re-read those reports for additional background.

The final state budget we passed was negotiated by the Senate and House Joint Conference Committee, with give and take on more than 250 differences of opinion on how to structure the budget, and a difference of thought on the size of the ending balance left in the budget June 30, 2012, which is the close of the fiscal year (a predicted sum we hope to achieve).

The budget we passed is designed to have an ending balance of just over $50 million. As I have previously indicated, I prefer in a recession to avoid cuts that are deeper than absolutely necessary, if at all possible. Hence, I?m OK with a small ending balance; this gives a slight cushion for the governor, if revenues again fall short this next year. We have legislators advocating a $300 million balance; in better times after the recession that would be good, but not now.

In March, I voted no on the House?s budget proposal, primarily because the House proposal slashed Washburn University?s budget in half, Kan-Ed and the Arts Commission were to be totally unfunded, public broadcasting was totally unfunded, our state universities were underfunded, and K-12 education was slated to take another ?hit,? along with the cut Gov. Brownback believed to be necessary in this recession.

The compromise budget crafted by the conference committee?the one we passed Thursday night as the state?s budget?corrected to a major degree all these shortcomings, and I supported it. I believe it was the best we could do in a really tough economy.

Through the new budget, Kan-Ed will have 60 percent of its funding and will operate this next year while a study group determines whether the program has run its course, whether its services are available through private industry, whether Kan-Ed has overstepped the bounds of its mission, and ultimately, whether the Kan-Ed program should continue after next year. Leaders in the House believe it could be better-handled by private industry.

The cuts to K-12 education are back to the level initially recommended by Gov. Brownback in January.

After the governor announced his intention to scrap the Kansas Arts Commission and replace it with an arts council to perform its core functions, the Senate rejected this proposal, so the commission will continue. The new state budget will fund the Kansas Arts Commission with $689,000 to pay its staff and to allocate grants to local communities for arts purposes, but its budget is subject to a line-item veto, if the governor wants to exercise that power.

The governor recently announced that on June 11, he will terminate all six employees of the Arts Commission. Watch for news about the ultimate fate of the commission and its budget, and who will run the show.

In the next few weeks, this column might skip a week here or there as I look to report matters of general interest and importance?and not otherwise covered by your local newspaper.

A great thank-you to the students of Chase and Marion counties who wrote me expressing concerns and viewpoints on various issues. Students and teachers, I hope my letters to you have given you additional perspective on your topics.

Please contact me at: Brookens70@sbcglobal.net or write me at 201 Meadow Lane, Marion, KS 66861; or call 620-382-2133. Please don?t call my Topeka number until the legislature starts again next January. Except for Sine Die, the legislative session is over, and I?m back

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