State budget a done deal after 3 a.m. House vote

TOPEKA – Debating deep into the early morning hours today, the House of Representatives joined the Senate in approving a $13.8 billion annual budget making deep cuts in education and shedding thousands of public jobs.

But unlike in the Senate, the budget faced strong opposition in the House from both left and right.

Democrats and a few Republicans decried cuts to schools and social service programs for the disabled and elderly.

They more or less alternated with conservative-movement Republicans who said the cuts don’t go deep enough.

But in the end – five minutes shy of 3 a.m., the center held and the budget that had been hammered out in 20 meetings of a House-Senate conference committee passed 69-55.

Freshman Republican Rep. John Rubin of Shawnee, said he had campaigned on a platform of cutting government spending and couldn’t vote for the budget bill, which increased state general fund spending while cutting the “all funds” budget that includes federal money and other sources of revenue.

He said the proposed general fund spending is 250 percent more than 1992 and about 40 percent more than as recently as 2003. “As I recall, Kansas was a pretty darn good place to live in 1992,” he said. “It was a pretty darn good place to live in 2003. And I can assure you, I think we all feel it’s a pretty darn good place to live this year.

“Folks, we don’t have a problem in Kansas with taxing too little, we have a problem with spending too much and taxing too much to fund this irresponsible spending.”

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, also brought up 1992, but in the context that cuts in education take the state back to school funding levels near those of 20 years ago.

He said a lot has changed since then.

“The cost of a US postage stamp in 1992 was 29 cents — today it’s 44 cents,” Ward said. “The cost of a gallon of gasoline was $1.13. I bought gas the other day … for $4.03.

“And what we are asking schools to do on that 1992 dollars is to make more kids smarter in math, science and reading and we will hold them accountable for that. That’s the wrong way to go.”

Rep. Mike Kiegerl, R-Olathe, said he wouldn’t vote for the budget because it leaves 4,000 disabled people waiting for public services.

“These are children that need desperately our services,” Kiegerl said. “We know we need to give them, but we are not yet prepared to do so. Actually we’re taking off 450 out of the 4,000 this year in the budget. But much more scandalously, the autism waiver, these are the most needy of all the kids, get nothing at all.”

The budget sets overall spending at $14.749 billion for fiscal 2011, which ends June 30.

For fiscal 2012, spending will dip to $13.876 billion.

The spending plans approved by House and Senate budget committees represent a two-year total of $48.3 million less than Gov. Sam Brownback proposed in his budget plan in January.

State General Fund spending will rise slightly from 2011 to 2012.

The legislative budget plans $5.76 billion in general fund spending for this fiscal year and $6.05 billion in 2012.

The Legislative plan cuts $61.3 million from the governor’s recommendation.

One area where the Legislature and governor are now in accord is per-pupil education spending.

At the beginning of this fiscal year, schools were forecast to get basic funding of $4,012 per pupil.

Using a process called allocation, which allows governors to cut budgets when revenues come up short, Brownback has already trimmed school spending to $3,990 for this fiscal year.

For next year, he proposed dropping that to $3,780.

In their adopted budgets, the Senate wanted to cut slightly less to $3,786; the House wanted to cut more, to $3,762.

But after months of wrangling and argument, House and Senate negotiators settled on the governor’s original January proposal, agreeing to the $3,780.

The budget substantially reduces the number of state employees.

In last year’s budget, legislators projected state employment for this year at 41,521 full-time equivalent positions. That’s already dropped to 41,147.

Next year’s budget plans for 39,184 positions, the lowest number of state employees since 2002.

The Legislative budget funds about 40 more full-time equivalent positions than the governor’s plan.

In an issue of local interest, the final budget includes $5 million to continue to subsidize low-cost airline service to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

The program, known as “Affordable Airfares” or “Fair Fares,” was taken out of the budget by the House.

That caused some anxiety for Wichita city officials who depend on the program to subsidize service by AirTran Airways, a low-fare carrier whose presence in the market helps push down prices across all airlines serving the airport.

One of the big battles of the budget year was settled mostly in favor of the House when the Senate acceded to carrying over a projected $71.8 million ending balance.

The Senate had originally proposed smaller budget cuts with about an $11 million ending balance. The House wanted deeper cuts and an ending balance of about $80 million.

The Senate passed the same budget late Wednesday by a 28-11 margin, amid some complaints that it cuts public schools too deeply and gives up on bringing government worker pay up to the standards of other states.

Senate Republicans said the budget is a responsible document to start restructuring the delivery of public services in a more efficient manner.

“This budget goes to great efforts to help our government be responsible in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression,” said Sen. Garrett Love, R-Montezuma. “It goes to great efforts to help our government live within its means just like our families do.”

Democrats were not nearly as excited.

“We are needlessly balancing the budget on the backs of our hardworking state employees and at the expense of our schoolchildren,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. “This budget will cut funding for Kansas public schools by $232 per student next year, resulting in teacher layoffs, school closures and increased class sizes.”

Hensley blasted the House for banking tens of millions of dollars instead of funding services.

“To them, (House members) a $72 million ending balance is more important than the well-being of school children, disabled and elderly citizens and our state workforce,” he said.