Senate panel cuts budget proposal, gears up for tax discussion

TOPEKA — A Senate panel cut about $91 million from its budget proposal Thursday in an effort to find a plan lawmakers could agree on.

Lawmakers also restored about $14 million to select programs.

“We were at the point that every cut that we made was devastating to somebody,” said Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “All of them have a lot of merit; the problem that we have is how do we come up with the revenue to put all of this back?”

The proposal still would need millions in new revenue to fill a budget gap. The Senate Ways and Means Committee will discuss a growing list of possibilities this morning.

Last week, many lawmakers balked when confronted with a tax package that would have generated almost $450 million in new revenue by increasing taxes on tobacco, alcohol and sugary beverages and a 1-cent statewide sales tax increase.

Emler said the committee would base its work today on that tax package. A new estimate on how much the tax package needs to raise should be available this morning.

Lawmakers had a new list of revenue options Thursday, and it included proposals to reverse some tax breaks granted to businesses in previous years. The changes would increase their taxes by $52 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Other ideas to raise revenue have included offering early retirement for up to 500 state employees or possibly selling off some state land or buildings then leasing the property back.

Among the $91 million in cuts approved by the committee Thursday was a plan that would halt future maintenance projects for the Kansas Department of Transportation, saving about $44.3 million.

The state also would  withhold $21.8 million from state disaster relief and not pay $24 million into KPERS for the death and disability employer contribution and school employer contribution.

Among the money lawmakers added back into the budget proposal — which they have been developing since January — was $375,000 for the state’s tiny-K program, which provides assistance to developmentally disabled children from birth until age 3.

The committee added $3.1 million back into home and community based services along with about $4.5 million for community developmental disabilities organizations.

The state budget for fiscal 2011, which starts July 1, would spend about $13 billion from state and federal sources. The committee approved the proposal, which now heads to the full Senate.