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Kansas budget negotiators resume talks

Published on -5/17/2012, 7:36 AM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Budget negotiators said Wednesday that proposals to increase spending on Kansas public schools and other government programs are joined at the hip to a pending compromise on tax cuts.

The budget talks resumed Wednesday after the conferees made little progress Tuesday. They're trying to resolve differences between the House and Senate on the $14 billion spending plan for the budget year that starts July 1. There have been nearly two dozen offers exchanged since negotiations began last week, with legislators agreeing to a host of smaller changes to agency spending.

"Earlier today I thought we were making progress," said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, lead Senate negotiator and a Sedgwick Republican. "It really comes down to what kind of tax policy might be passed and trying to balance whatever that tax policy is with the budget."

A new tax bill that emerged Wednesday would blunt the effects of a plan legislators approved last week. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback received the bill Wednesday and said he would sign it, but encouraged legislators to continue to work on a compromise alternative.

The new plan would leave the state with healthier ending balances and would not require significant cuts in spending to balance the budget, as would the bill on the governor's desk.

The budget negotiators plan to resume their talks Thursday ahead of a key vote on the new tax plan.

"Eventually, maybe things do come to a halt depending on what kind of tax policy is passed," McGinn said. "I still have a lot of questions about the revenues that were built into the (tax plan) profile."

Rep. Marc Rhoades, lead House negotiator and a Newton Republican, said the tax plan heading to the governor takes $170 million off the table for spending next year in order to maintain a 7.5 percent ending cash balance, roughly $460 million. Passage of a new plan would add more money to the mix, but not enough to satisfy remaining issues.

House members have said that, given what is known about the tax plan, that they are willing to spend either $25 million on education for the remainder of the current budget year, or add $25 million in new spending in the 2013 budget, but not both. They also prefer taking the money from the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Senators maintain that there should be sufficient state revenues in the general tax fund to pay for the 2012 increases, as well as $50 million next year. Brownback has only proposed making the 2012 expenditure to keep up with additional school enrollment growth and caseloads.

The House is also sticking to its position that education funding must be tied to changes in school policy, including language on teacher evaluations and technical education.

"We're not trying to hide anything. We've stated that position all along," Rhoades said.

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