Work continues at many levels toward an acceptable budget bill

This past week saw the House finally take up the issue of the 2009 budget modifications. We have a duty to balance the issues and balance the budget.

We dealt with the governor?s proposal, the Senate Ways and Means Committee proposal, the final Senate bill, the House Appropriations Committee bill, and finally, the amended House proposal.

By the time the governor proposed her budget modifications, it was grossly out-of-balance and inaccurate. It had to be modified and more cuts made?circumstances had already changed in our economy.

The difficulty with modifying the budget at this time of the year is that K-12 education has so little time left in its year and has very few places to cut its spending. Having said that, K-12 education costs make up more than 50 percent of the state general fund budget. So making no cuts to K-12 education makes it nearly impossible to avoid harm to other vulnerable citizens of Kansas.

The bottom line for me: The House Appropriations bill would have reduced K-12 education by about 1.5 percent in addition to the governor?s reduction?called a nonpayment by the governor of a promised $17 million, not a reduction.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee would have reduced K-12 by 3.4 percent in addition to the governor?s reduction.

The final Senate bill would have reduced K-12 by 0.2 percent?some say it wouldn?t reduce it at all?plus the governor?s cut.

None of those proposals could have passed the House.

By the time we came to the Capitol on Wednesday, we had been successful in lowering the House proposal, to cut education 1 percent above the governor?s reduction.

This is of great concern to me, since I support a strong education system. So I have been in regular contact with the seven superintendents of schools in the 70th District throughout this process.

While a cut is never fun nor easy, all seven verified to me they could withstand the 1 percent cut above the governor?s ?nonpayment.? They confirmed that students? education would ?feel the effect? of even that 1 percent, but that if that?s what passes, they would figure it out.

It?s February. There?s not a lot of year left, so verifying where our school districts were on this issue was important. Even a 1 percent reduction this late in the year is huge since the salaries of all teachers and administrators are contractual obligations and are not now modifiable for this school year. That 1 percent has to come from other areas of educational spending.

While we were considering the amended House proposal on the floor of the House, several other amendments were proposed with bits and pieces that looked worthwhile, one of which I supported (it failed).

In the final analysis, however, the amended House proposal was, in my judgment, the best bill at that time, because it could gain muster and get passed. It is less harmful to education, it keeps the promise to counties, cities and schools regarding the tax slider and avoids more harm to the most vulnerable.

Well, that bill is now in a conference committee, with three members from the Senate and three members from the House working on reconciling their differences. Current wisdom suggests that the final cut to education might be a bit smaller by the time we receive that compromise bill.

If that can be done without harming Kansans who are truly helpless, I?d be thrilled. I also hope the compromise kicks the slider money out to the counties and cities (and schools) in February, as initially planned, which will stop the need to raise local taxes.

We hope to receive a compromise by the end of this week. Time will tell.

Although the committees I serve on are working hard, the budget is right now the No. 1 topic, so that?s what I?m reporting to you about this week.

I hope you don?t tire of it.

As always, you may contact me by e-mail at Brookens70@ sbcglobal.net or write me at 201 Meadow Lane, Marion, KS 66861.

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