TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday slashed $56.5 million from the state's budget, most of it from public schools, after fellow Republicans who control the House and Senate failed to agree on where to trim spending to reach a constitutionally mandated balanced budget.
Brownback's action would get the state's budget to zero for the fiscal year, assuming revenue collections through June meet expectations. State law gives the governor the authority to impose budget cuts, but only to get to zero, not create a cushion.
"I wish we didn't have to do this," Brownback said. "It's been difficult, but it's something we need to do."
The Department of Education said the cuts reduce the state aid by $75 per student — from $4,012 to $3,937. However, the per-student cut would really only be $22 because the governor's plan also would offset some of the reductions by applying $35 million from a federal jobs grant to schools.
The governor asked legislators during his Jan. 12 State of the State address to send him a bill that would cut spending and give Kansas $35 million in reserve to carry forward. Those dollars are necessary with the state facing a projected deficit in 2012 of $493 million.
"We must return fiscal sanity to government," Brownback said Friday. "We must grow our economy to have resources to work with."
Other cuts include reductions in the operating budgets for the attorney general, arts commission, Department of Wildlife and Parks and higher education.
Brownback linked the schools cut to funding to cover federally mandated expenses for increased health care and social services caseloads. It wasn't immediately clear what would happen if didn't take that action.
The House and Senate passed rival versions of a cuts bill in February. Negotiators have since failed to reach a compromise, partly because the House's 92 Republicans are collectively more conservative than their 31 Senate counterparts, who want fewer reductions and more protections for K-12 education.
Brownback informed legislative leaders earlier this week that he would take matters in his own hands if negotiators couldn't agree on a bill. Talks appeared to break down Thursday evening over differences about how much of a revenue cushion to leave the state heading to the next fiscal year.
Complicating the negotiations has been a shortfall in special education funding. The state must increase its spending levels for the program by about $21 million in the current year or face the loss of federal funding in future years. Legislators propose funding the gap by delaying a payment due to the pension fund for teachers and reducing the base aid per pupil that is distributed school districts.
Brownback also wants to cut schools by another $157 per pupil in 2012 to balance the budget. The reduction is partly due to the expiration of federal stimulus dollars Kansas used in recent years to maintain education spending.
House and Senate negotiators blamed each other for the stalled talks.
"Even if they should come back and say, 'Oh, we've changed our mind. We'll agree to what you want, and we'll support it,' I think there's a lack of trust that now makes it very difficult to continue those negotiations," said Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican and one of the negotiators.
House Speaker Mike O'Neal said his chamber was committed to helping the governor find additional savings. He suggests that negotiators reconvene and take another look at the items not included in Brownback's cuts and try to find additional savings.
"I appreciate the governor's willingness to make the necessary allotments to balance revenues and expenditures," said O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican. "However, the House remains committed to establishing a healthy ending balance after funding necessary programs. It doesn't make sense for us not to do some of it."