Kansas House debates 2012 budget

By John Milburn

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 31 2011 2:30 p.m. MDT

Kansas state Rep. Anthony Brown, right, a Eudora Republican, confers with House Speaker Mike O'Neal, right, a Hutchinson Republican, at the start of the House's debate on a proposed state budget, Thursday, March 31, 2011, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan.

John Hanna, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

TOPEKA, Kan. — House members acknowledging bleak financial times found nearly $280,000 planned for paper clips and bottled water in the 2012 Kansas budget and proposed transferring it to a hospital for the developmentally disabled.

The budget debate, which included few changes as it continued into the afternoon, centers on a plan to spend $14 billion in the fiscal year beginning July 1. It calls for spending some $6 billion in state revenues and eliminates a projected $493 million shortfall.

"We were named Bleeding Kansas when we were founded as a state, and we're bleeding now financially," said Rep. Kasha Kelley, an Arkansas City Republican.

Legislators also were waiting for the Department of Revenue to release preliminary figures on the state's tax collections for March, hoping they would meet expectations. A drop is likely to complicate the budget process when legislators return to complete their work in late April after a three-week recess that begins Saturday.

Some House Republicans sought to go deeper with the cuts in hopes of improving on the $80 million in reserves the budget proposal would create. One would have cut overtime pay for state employees by 50 percent.

"These are tough times and we have to make some tough decisions. I'm asking that we take a look at the entire budget," said Rep. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican.

Most of the efforts were to move less than $5 million in funds from one account to the other to protect programs, such as cuts in parole officers and community corrections.

A Topeka legislator successfully amended the budget to cut expenses for bottled water, paper clips and other office supplies to increase funding for the Kansas Neurological Institute.

Republican Rep. Joe Patton's change restores some $277,000 in funding a committee had deleted from the hospital for the developmentally disabled.

Because of House debate rules, Patton had to find the money from within the budget bill and move it to the KNI account, a policy known as pay-as-you-go.

House budget committee members reduced the KNI budget as the facility begins the process of closing and moving residents to community settings. A date for closure hasn't been set, but House members approved a commission to oversee the transition of residents.

Late Wednesday, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback spoke to the 92-member House GOP caucus urging them to make quick work of their budget and move the session forward. He has proposed a budget that will save the state about $7.5 million in reserves in 2012.

His budget is closer to the version the Senate approved Tuesday, which leaves about $8 million in reserve.

Negotiators from the two chambers will begin reconciling the two versions while the Legislature is on its recess. The goal will be to have the final version ready when the session resumes in late April.

One key difference is the cuts to public schools. The Senate cuts state aid to the 289 Kansas school districts by $226 per student, while the House cut is $250 per student. Brownback has recommended $232 per student.

The House budget committee is considering another education bill that would redefine at-risk students. Currently the definition includes students receiving free or reduced-priced lunches. Districts receive extra funds on the basis that students living in poverty are at greater risk of academic failure. The new definition would keep the current standard for students through the fourth grade.

From then on, only students who fail to meet proficiency on state assessments would be considered at-risk of academic failure and trigger additional fund for their school districts. The change would result in a reduction of more than $100 million in at-risk spending.

The change is not included in the budget bill debated Thursday.

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