Kan. budget agreement unravels just before vote

By John Hanna

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 30 2012 9:20 p.m. MDT

Kansas state Sen. John Vratil, left, a Leawood Republican, Carol Benoit, his chief of staff, center, and Sen. Carolyn McGinn, right, a Sedgwick Republican, discuss issues after a budget agreement between the Senate and House has unraveled.

John Hanna, Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. — An agreement among Kansas legislators over a proposed $14.1 billion state budget unraveled Friday, postponing big spending decisions for several weeks and possibly creating headaches for agencies and their clients.

The House's Republican leaders wanted to reopen budget talks that had appeared to resolve dozens of differences between their chamber and the Senate over the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. They said the budget legislation didn't match the deal cut Thursday, particularly when it came to how the state would cover nearly $25 million in unanticipated costs faced by the state's 286 school districts.

Senate negotiators balked, saying the terms of the deal were clear — and reflected in the budget legislation. The House canceled a vote on the compromise, and lawmakers adjourned for their annual spring break, leaving the issues to be resolved after they return April 25 to wrap up business for the year.

The impasse could have tangible consequences. Senators said state courts could have to close extra days and state parks could struggle to find enough workers at the start of tourist season because of shortfalls in fee collections.

"I don't know why in the world they're doing what they're doing," said Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican and one of the negotiators.

The compromise budget plan would have dealt with most of the spending issues facing state government during the next fiscal year. It would have cut overall spending by 4.2 percent, or about $620 million, and leave the state with cash reserves of $523 million at the end of June 2013.

But the bill also contained some supplemental dollars for the current budget.

Senators worried about the court system following a letter last month from Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, asking for an additional $1.4 million in tax dollars to offset a drop in revenues from case-filing fees. Nuss wrote that if the court didn't get extra tax dollars by the end of March, it would be forced to furlough employees for five days, starting in mid-April.

House GOP leaders were skeptical, saying the court can shift other dollars to personnel costs until lawmakers act.

And top House Republicans said the impasse arose primarily over a significant budget issue that has its own financial ramifications.

Schools face unanticipated costs from higher-than-expected numbers of students and because a greater percentage of students need extra help to keep them from failing. Brownback and the Senate proposed covering those costs; the House didn't object but wanted to shift funds from highway projects.

House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, said the goal is to help build the state's cash reserves, as a financial cushion — and to create room for tax cuts that will stimulate the economy.

Budget negotiators agreed to postpone a decision on how the costs were covered until after lawmakers' spring break. O'Neal said House members didn't want the $25 million actually appropriated until the funding source was determined — and the budget agreement gave school districts the money.

"This one alone causes them to go back to the drawing board," O'Neal said.

But House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, suggested that House GOP leaders were looking for "more political leverage" on other issues, an idea O'Neal dismissed.

"I don't believe there is any good reason for the Legislature not to have passed a budget," Davis said.

____

Budget agreement was the Conference Committee Report on House Sub for SB 294.

Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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