Archive for Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Senators work on state budget

February 12, 2003

Cities, counties and highway projects will take a hit in the revised state budget for the rest of this year.

The Senate last week advanced its version of the supplemental appropriations bill for this fiscal year. Like the bill approved late last month by the House, it will cut $48 million in revenue-sharing payments to cities and counties and withhold repayment of $95 million borrowed last year from the State Highway Fund.

Both bills also transfer $35 million from special revenue funds to keep the state's general fund out of the red and avoid cuts in education and social services.

Special funds include tobacco settlement money from the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund and federal money from the Senior Services Trust Fund.

Budget adjustments are required to avoid a deficit projected to be more than $300 million dollars on June 30, the end of the 2003 fiscal year.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate's doesn't promise to repay the Highway Fund in 2005. Some senators expressed concern about cutting the transportation budget. Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, asked Ways and Means Chairman Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, if the bill canceled a legal obligation to repay $95 million to the Highway Fund.

Morris said, "I don't know that we can cancel the moral obligation." But repayment would have to wait until the state had the money, he said.

The bill passed the Senate 33-7. Twenty-four Republicans and nine Democrats voted for the bill. Voting no were: Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe; Mark Gilstrap, D-Kansas City; Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler; Bob Lyon, R-Winchester; Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe; Ed Pugh, R-Wamego; and Derek Schmidt, R-Independence.

Pugh said the bill was the wrong way to get out of the budget crisis. "Why don't we just tighten our belts and cut everything across the board whatever percentage we're short?" he said. "That way nobody can believe they're being treated unfairly." Local governments wouldn't be complaining if their revenue sharing funds were cut a small percentage instead of completely, Pugh said.

O'Connor said she opposed the bill because it increased government spending. Although the 2003 budget bills cut general fund spending, spending overall from state funds is increased.

Sen. Jay Scott Emler, R-Lindsborg, said the bill was a bipartisan effort with support from Democrats, moderate Republicans and some conservative Republicans. It passed more quickly than he had expected, he said.

Sen. Janis Lee, D-Kensington, said the bipartisan support and the civility of the debate made her hopeful legislators could get through the session without a repeat of last year's unpleasantness. But because the governor's budget recommendation is based on a zero ending balance, further shortfalls in state revenue could lead to a fight over taxes or deep cuts.

Sen. Stan Clark, R-Oakley, agreed. "It completely depends on income tax receipts," he said. "There's no margin for error."

State revenue figures released last week showed January collections were $6 million below projections.

House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said Friday the House and Senate bills were fairly close and that he expected the conference committee to resolve the differences by the middle of this week. Mays said the legislature had to move fast on the 2003 budget to give agencies as much time as possible to deal with their reduced budgets.

As for the 2004 budget, Mays said, "We'll probably go pretty closely along with the governor's recommendation. The only other alternatives are cutting K-12 education or raising taxes, and nobody has any appetite for either of those things."

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