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Kansas House passes $14B budget measure

Published on -5/9/2012, 6:23 AM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House approved its $14 billion budget proposal late into Tuesday night, clicking off one more item on the to-do list as the time continued to run out on the 2012 legislative session.
With a 77-44 vote, the bill will be in the hands of six negotiators, three each from the House and Senate, to draft the final spending bill of the year.
Members made few substantial changes to the bill, which covers spending for the fiscal year starting July 1. Estimates were that legislators would be able fund government programs and still end up with an ending balance of about $700 million on June 30, 2013. That figure is likely to be reduced pending the approval of a tax package that senators were scheduled to debate Wednesday.
It was the chamber’s longest budget debate of the year — just a few days before Friday’s 90-day session deadline. Members reconsidered issues that were debated in mid-March, using new revenue projections from April 13 showing the state on better financial footing than in recent years.
Most of the spending increases occurred early in the debate when members approved an amendment adding $50 million to base state aid for school districts, an increase of about $37 per student next school year. Supporters said the addition would be a step toward restoring cuts made to education in recent years that were caused by declining state resources.
“I think it is clear that there are some needs in K-12 education after the last couple of years. This would be a good starting place,” said Rep. Clay Aurand, a Belleville Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee.
The funding would come from the Kansas Department of Transportation budget. Legislators complained that under House rules approved at the start of the 2011 session they were unable to use the projected state general fund balance, the main repository for tax dollars, to increase spending.
The rule, known as pay-go, requires House members to find equal amounts of funding from elsewhere in the budget during floor debate. Critics of the provision said it leaves the budget decisions to 12 members of the House Appropriations Committee and is unfair to the remaining 113.
“It is not democratic and it is not fair,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. “The impetus is to put more money in education, so let’s do it the right way. We can clearly fund this. Let’s fund schools the way we should fund schools.”
The Kansas Senate has already passed its own version of the budget, which would spend some $14.4 billion. Senators also increased school spending, adding $50 million to base state aid and taking the money from the state’s estimated reserve funds, estimated to be at nearly $500 million next year.
House members also narrowly defeated an amendment to add $8.5 million to give certain state employees a pay raise to match private-sector wages. The state was forced to end a five-year plan after just three years because of tight budgets. The amendment failed on a 59-58 vote.
Legislators are quickly approaching the session’s limit. Once the House approves a budget, negotiators from the two chambers will begin meeting to work out differences. The final agreement must pass the House and Senate by Friday to keep government operating in the next at the latest for the session to end on time.
Should they need to exceed the allotted time, legislators must pass a resolution authorizing the extension of the session.
The House also added a provision to the budget requiring all state contractors that win bids for work worth $50,000 or more to use an electronic verification system to prove that their workers are legal to be in the United States. Supporters said surrounding states have implemented the program without any detriment to the costs of contracts.
Opponents said the move was an undue regulation to put on businesses at a time when Kansas is trying to attract new commerce to the state.
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