Kansas Legislature narrowly passes unbalanced budget, ending 2016 session
TOPEKA — Kansas lawmakers worked into the wee hours of the morning Monday to end the 2016 session after passing a $6.3 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a budget that is roughly $22 million out of balance.
That’s because current revenue forecasts show the state will not receive enough tax revenue to pay for all the spending in the bill, and lawmakers did not raise any new revenue to cover the shortfall.
Despite sweeping millions of dollars out of the state highway fund and delaying several major highway projects, and making significant cuts to state funding for higher education, the bill calls on Gov. Sam Brownback to find another $92 million in additional cuts and efficiency savings in order to leave the state with an ending balance of about $70 million.
The bill, SB 249, barely passed both chambers — 63-59 in the House and 22-18 in the Senate — and now goes to Brownback, who has indicated he will sign it. The House voted shortly after 1 a.m. after members agreed to suspend their own rule prohibiting the chamber from meeting after midnight.
In the Senate, the bill appeared to be failing at first, but leaders used a procedural move to hold the roll open for 40 minutes to give themselves time to persuade three Republicans to switch their votes from no to yes. The bill passed around 3:30 a.m.
Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the Senate budget committee, said she believed the Senate shirked its constitutional duty to pass a balanced budget.
“It seems to me this is unprecedented,” Kelly said. “Adjourning with cuts still needing to be made in order to get to zero (ending balance) is unprecedented, as far as I can remember. I think it’s an abdication of our responsibility to put together a truly balanced budget.”
But Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, said the practice is not unprecedented.
“The same scenario happened back under (former Kansas Gov. Mark) Parkinson, and we ended with a lower balance,” he said.