As session draws near an end, deals abound

TOPEKA — House Republicans this evening laid out three major budget deals that could dramatically alter the outcome of this year’s legislative session. And they’ve given Senate negotiators about two hours to decide if they want to make a deal.

“Our offers are good for only tonight,” said Arkansas City Republican Rep. Kasha Kelley.

“We’ll just let you know when we’re ready,” said Sedgwick Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn.

The proposals represent a high-stakes climax as the session grinds near an end. Meanwhile, Gov. Sam Brownback has on his desk a massive tax-cutting bill that he has said he will sign if an agreement isn’t worked out. That bill would force the legislature to cut hundreds of millions in spending for years to come, a move moderate Republicans and Democrats say could devastate core state services.

Under one scenario, the House and Senate would agree to approve a negotiated tax-cutting proposal that the Senate today essentially rejected, sending it back to a committee for further debate as the clock runs out. In exchange, the milder tax plan would free up additional money for education, a top priority for moderate Republicans in the Senate. But it comes with a catch. The Senate would have to approve a set of education policy recommendations that Gov. Sam Brownback has advocated for.

Those education policy changes include reclassifying some school funding money so that courts, which are likely to rule whether the state provides adequate funding, would take into account more funding categories than it has in the past. Another move would change how school districts calculate at-risk students, which has an impact on funding districts receive based on how many low-income or English as a second language students they have.

A second scenario would give the Senate the $74 per student funding increase it has sought along with equalization money for property-poor districts in exchange for the policy changes.

And a final package would ditch the education policy and funding increases, leaving schools with a smaller increase while advancing a technical education initiative sought by Brownback.

Whatever they decide would have to be voted on by the House and Senate, most likely Saturday morning or early afternoon.