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Morning Sun
  • Legislature works to balance budget

  • The Kansas House and the Kansas Senate each passed their own version of the budget this week, and now the differences between the two will have to be resolved.

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  • The Kansas House and the Kansas Senate each passed their own version of the budget this week, and now the differences between the two will have to be resolved.
    Thursday, the House passed its budget 69-52, which ends the state budget with a balance of $80 million. The Senate version, which passed on Tuesday 36-3, would leave the state with $8 million. Both are above Gov. Sam Brownback’s recommendations from January.
    Perhaps the hardest hit sector in either version of the budget was K-12 education.
    In January, Brownback recommended a $232 cut per student in state aid to K-12 education. The House and Senate split that mark, with the Senate’s budget calling for $226 per student, and the House called for a $250 cut per student.
    “K-12 will take a big hit,” said state Sen. Bob Marshall, R-Fort Scott. “That’s a tough hit for K-12. But there was no way the budget was going to pass without that in it. I just think it was never an issue, it was never discussed. It was kind of automatic. But that’s where we are.”
    State Rep. Bob Grant, D-Cherokee, went even further about the cuts to state aid for K-12 education.
    “This budget, to me, is a slap in the face to people in the education arena,” Grant said. “We’ve asked, and they have stepped up and done more with less. Now we’re asking them to jump a hurdle that is unjumpable.”
    State Rep. Doug Gatewood, D-Columbus, said that the budget further hits the most vulnerable citizens in Kansas. He noted that aid to both mental health and disabilities were cut by $3 million each. He said that the Meals on Wheels program was cut $300,000, which equates to 53,000 meals, or service to 240 seniors each year.
    “Nobody’s a winner with this budget,” Gatewood said.
    Gatewood did make an exception, though. He noted that a few Cabinet-level secretaries got big raises under the new administration. For instance, Gatewood said that the Secretary for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, who has been paid $107,990 in the past, is now a $190,000 position. Another legislator agreed with Gatewood’s stance.
    “What the governor did, I didn’t agree with. He hired secretaries and department heads that came in for more money than the previous person,” Grant said. “We say we’re holding down expenses, but...”
    Not all state employees are getting boosts. In fact, it took a late amendment to remove a provision from the House budget that would have cut state employees’ salaries by close to 8 percent. Instead, that was replaced with a 1.2 percent cut to most departments.
    “I wasn’t real popular on the state payroll cuts,” said state Rep. Terry Calloway, R-Pittsburg. “We needed to reduce those if not cut all of them. That was a part I really didn’t like about the budget. We did have the budget fit with revenue projections. But those revenue projections recently worsened.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Calloway was referring to information from the state Department of Revenue, which showed that collections for March were $19.4 million less than expected.
    Other legislators found that the budget did a great amount of cutting, with not enough revenue creation.
    “One thing that I haven’t heard talked about in this whole process is job creation,” Gatewood said. “Still, our unemployment is high. The one thing we haven’t talked about is creating jobs.”
    Calloway described the budget as a series of sacrifices, and put some of the blame on those that held office in past years.
    “There is nothing that worked well in this budget,” Calloway said. “It’s obvious if you look at the cuts in services. Almost all of the budget is sacrificing. We do the best we can do. There wasn’t anything I was charmed about in the budget. I’m uncomfortable that the budget can’t meet the spending needs from previous administrations.”
    Grant said he would have liked to see the end of some tax cuts to businesses, and said the state is already business-friendly and could have cut some tax breaks in order to close the budget gaps. He said that the budget was “punitive” against those who aren’t in a position to take the cuts.
    “We just cut too much. I’m not arguing that maybe things can’t be trimmed,” Grant said. “The problem is we’re trying to use a meat cleaver and not use a scalpel. Kids, the elderly, people with disabilities are all being hit by this budget... We’re trying to do this on the backs of the people who can least afford it.”
     
    Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 140.
     
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