Senate passes $334.8 million in compromise budget cuts

Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, argues in favor of a compromise budget amendment which reduces this year's budget by $334.8 million Wednesday night.

Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, argues in favor of a compromise budget amendment which reduces this year's budget by $334.8 million Wednesday night.

TOPEKA – The Kansas Senate budget compromise came late in the afternoon Wednesday, after a day where more time was spent waiting than debating.

The deal, hashed out between two unlikely bedfellows, reduced the current year’s budget by $334.8 million.

The amendment passed on a vote of 25-15 with the chamber’s nine Democrats and several conservative Republicans throwing in their support.

“This is a bill I believe makes progress and this is a bill that not everyone is happy with,” said Sen. Susan Wagle, a conservative Wichita Republican. “It tries to get us to where we can all get on the same page.”

The measure, sponsored by Topeka Democrat Sen. Laura Kelly, cut less into schools that the GOP sponsored 3.4 across-the-board cut approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Monday.

Under the initial substitute for Senate Bill 23, Wichita School District would have seen a reduction of about $10.7 million. The amended bill would decrease the per student state aid $11 dollars more than the $22 – per student amount proposed in Democrat Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ budget reductions.

The new proposal would mean a hit of roughly $2.5 million, estimated district lobbyist Diane Gjerstad.

“This cut, from what we know right now, is more reasonable than the alternative,” she said.

The amended bill will also tap in to $37 million set aside in a “lock box” for education spending education this year instead of fiscal year 2010.

Lawmakers are working to fill a budget gap that could be about $200 million this budget year, which ends June 30. That could escalate to $1 billion next fiscal year.

The amended proposal relies more heavily on revenue adjustments – some one-time sources of money – than the measure passed by the Senate Ways and Means, although over all it reduces the budget more.

The compromise bill uses $134.3 million in revenue adjustments and $200.5 million in spending cuts to make up its reductions. That compares to $36.6 million in revenue adjustments proposed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee and $265.1 million in spending cuts.

Many lawmakers opposed to the amendment focused on the decreased amount of spending cuts.

“This proposal is better than doing nothing and it is better than the proposal that the governor offered,” said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, D-Independence, who voted against the amendment. “But let’s have no illusions, it does not solve the underlying problem.”

Most of the amendment’s reductions came from revenue adjustments that wouldn’t be available in the future, said Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood. By delaying cuts, lawmakers were increasing the pressure for tax increases in the 2010 budget.

“Go ahead and vote for this proposal if you must, it is easier, it gets us down the road, it doesn’t deal with the structural problems in the budget,” he said.

Kelly acknowledged the measure did not fix the problems, but neither did the bill approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, she said. The compromise gave everyone time to prepare for more cuts.

“I think we are all fully aware that there is pain that is going to come and it is going to be severe,” she said.