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Kan. House OKs budget, Senate debate awaits

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The Kansas House gave final approval Wednesday to the chamber's version of a $14 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which includes a 4 percent cut to higher education.

The 68-55 vote sends the bill to the Senate, which is scheduled to debate its version of the budget later in the day.

The House budget spends about $6 billion in general state revenues in the fiscal year beginning July 1, but makes a $30 million cut in higher education budgets for state universities, community colleges and technical schools. The Senate version proposes a smaller reduction, taking 2 percent from operating budgets for a savings to the state of $15 million.

Balancing the House budget will depend heavily upon passage of a tax bill, also scheduled for debate on Wednesday along with other property tax legislation. GOP leaders were confident the two plans would come together.

"It's something that we've been working for," said House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican. "At last we're cutting budgets and trying to save the taxpayers some money."

Both chambers' proposals closely follow a budget for spending on K-12 education, social services and public safety presented by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

The Senate would increase state aid by $14 per pupil in 2014, raising it to $3,852. That increase is made possible by another part of the bill that calls to move the cost of providing school transportation services -- $96.6 million -- to the Department of Transportation. The House plan keeps base aid at $3,838 per student.

The House is debating a tax package that diverts $382 million from the state transportation program to fund general government operations, while also allowing a decrease in the state sales tax scheduled for July. The Senate has approved a tax plan that would leave the sales tax rate at 6.3 percent, as it has been since 2010.

Differences in both the tax and budget bills will be worked out by three House members and three senators in a conference committee in the coming weeks.

"The Senate is taking an opposite approach of raising taxes and therefore they are able to cushion the blow of budget cuts," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. "I don't think the House is interested in taking a similar approach."

Under the House two-year budget proposal, the state would annually spend about $6 billion of the state general fund primarily from taxes and fees from July 1 of this year through June 30, 2014. The remaining $8 billion is raised through a combination of other state fees and federal funds, such as payments for Medicaid health care services for the poor and disabled.

The $14 billion per year Senate plan is structured similarly.