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Kan. budget cuts to corrections criticized

Published on -5/25/2013, 2:48 PM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Democrats and the Kansas corrections secretary say an agreement struck earlier in the week to cut some $12 million from public safety in the 2014 Kansas budget would put residents at risk if spending cuts are not restored.

The concerns were raised Friday as legislative leaders digested the potential impact of the cuts in the proposed budget, which spends some $14.5 billion in 2014 and a similar amount in 2015. The budget agreement, expected to be debated next week, would trim $8.5 million from the Department of Corrections' operational budget and reduce the agency's salary cap by $4.1 million.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis said the budget reflected poor choices that were a result of the massive income tax cuts enacted in 2012, leaving Kansas with reduced revenue and difficult spending decisions. He also questioned a decision to subsidize two golf tournaments in the Wichita area later this year.

"This is money we are just throwing away, and we are doing this at the same time that we are going to leave sex offenders unsupervised," said Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, referring to the possibility the cuts would eliminate supervision for low-and medium-risk offenders, including sex offenders.

Added Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka, "I think the budget is probably going to go down in the House, when all is said and done."

Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts issued a statement Thursday saying the presumed savings from changes in sentencing and post-release supervision policies would be less than $400,000, not the $8 million that House negotiators were anticipating.

Roberts said if the budget cuts go through it could lead to closing of the 130-bed minimum security prison at Stockton, as well as eliminating the offenders' post-release supervision.

"The end result is that we will be spending far more than we save with the potential for increased victimization of Kansans due to an increased rate of untreated, unsupervised offenders in our communities," Roberts said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades said Friday he was confused why the anticipated savings is far less than legislators were led to believe. The House planned to use part of those savings to offset the $4 million in salary cap cuts to the corrections department while still putting money toward in the state general fund.

"I'm baffled. I'm not sure where that leaves us," Rhoades, a Newton Republican, said.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ty Masterson said the cuts to corrections were part of the House budget proposal he signed off on in attempt "to move us off dead center." He said those spending decisions were not supported by the Senate, but were allowed in order to try and help close the 2013 session, which was in its 94th day on Friday.

"In our effort to get off the fence, we agreed to the House positions that we disagreed with," said Masterson, an Andover Republican.

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