Budget, budget and more budget.
Budget, budget and more budget.
That’s what local legislators said they expected to see when they report back to Topeka on Wednesday after a three-week break. The time they come back, typically at the end of April, is usually reserved for any last-minute things to approve to end the session. But this year, the wrap-up is more of the entrée than dessert.
Waiting for them will be the Omnibus budget, which actually contains more items than the “Mega” budget passed earlier, and which spends well over the state’s revenue projections.
“I’m sure everyone is aware of the shortfall in revenue projections,” said Sen. Jim Barone, D-Frontenac. “It’s the most significant issue we have to deal with. There was a lot of overspending in the main session, and now we have to figure out a way to curtail spending or raise revenue. We cannot continue to spend more than we take in.”
Rep. Julie Menghini, D-Pittsburg, said some agencies were barely getting what they needed to survive.
“There will be a lot of tough decisions with the budget because of what estimates say,” Menghini said. “Nobody is going to get how much they want, and a lot of people are going to say they can’t get what they need.”
“Now we’re what, $130 million short?” asked Rep. Bob Grant, D-Cherokee. “That’s a problem. We tried putting off all the stuff until the last minute, and the bad thing about it is that it’s probably going to be up to about six people (in committee) to decide. I don’t know how the hell we’re going to pass one being that short.”
Barone issued a call for several state agencies to tighten their belts, including the Kansas Board of Regents.
“There have been recent press statements by regents members talking about tuition increases if their requests aren’t funded,” Barone said. “I would hope that they would look at belt-tightening ideas across the board also.”
Grant said Pittsburg State University’s school of construction would have to fight for funding.
“With the budget shortage, I’m really not sure who is going to get what,” Grant said. “For some of the most vulnerable Kansans, at this point, it would be a tough sell to get them something. And that’s sad.”
But it won’t all be about the budget. This year’s big issue, the Sunflower Power Plant in Holcomb, still has yet to see a resolution, though legislators did try to expedite the process recently, bringing down the terms a bit. Grant said their attempt at compromise was to knock the proposal down 100 megawatts, from two 700-megawatt plants to two 600-megawatt plants and added that they “added a bunch of green stuff in.”
“The governor said she wanted one 600-megawatt plant,” Grant said. “So I’m not sure if that’s enough.”
Menghini, who originally voted against the plant, said it wasn’t enough for her to change her mind.
“They have made what they call a compromise offer, which I don’t think is that much,” Menghini said. “I see it as they don’t have the votes for the veto override. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have done that. It could go either way. Depending on how long that takes it could make for a longer wrap-up session.”
Other issues that Barone said could see some time include a bill regulating aspects of home inspectors, a tourism bill that has yet to see compromise and a rural development economic development bill that he said would impact southeast Kansas significantly. Grant said health care, a smoking ban or a gaming issue could also sneak in unannounced.
“As always, there’s a lot left to be done,” Barone said.
Menghini said legislative calendar makers purposely didn’t include any May dates so that there wasn’t a drop-dead date for the session. She said she anticipated working through the week and possibly finishing up on the weekend.
“In her sweet dreams,” Grant said. “If I had to make a stab at it, I would say we’ll be up there 10 days, through next weekend. And I may be a little short on that. There’s just so much to do.”