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Kansas budget negotiations abruptly halted

Published on -5/17/2013, 2:40 PM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Negotiations on the Kansas budget halted abruptly Friday after state senators demanded a final offer from the House that could lead to the end of the 2013 session.

The talks had been scheduled for Friday morning, following three rounds of negotiations Thursday which saw legislators make steady progress on the budget for the next two fiscal years.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ty Masterson asked his House counterpart to move the process further along, seeking a final offer on higher education and a state employee salary cap that would pass the GOP-dominated House. But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades said that request couldn't be accommodated and canceled Friday's meetings.

"We can't do that," Rhoades said of meeting the pressure to have a final solution quickly. "It will take time for us to get a final, final offer. I don't fault the chairman. Those are his marching orders."

The Newton Republican said he hopes to meet with House leaders and resume talks with the Senate on Monday.

Senate President Susan Wagle planned a news conference later Friday to discuss the impasse.

The breakdown in talks came a day after a rare joint caucus of House and Senate Republicans where members expressed a desire to work together to resolve issues over the $14.5 million budget and find a compromise on taxes. Soon after the meeting, budget negotiators conducted three rounds of talks and pared their list to a handful of items.

"Clearly we are at an impasse," Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat and member of the Senate budget negotiating team, said Friday. "How do we do a budget when we don't even know how much revenue we have? We should do taxes first."

She said no budget that's been on the table so far would cut enough money in the long term to match revenue projections.

"We don't have the revenue because we cut income taxes last year," Kelly said.

Major sticking points remain the House desire to cut spending at state universities, community colleges and technical centers by 4 percent. The Senate initially sought a 2 percent cut, but Masterson countered with a 1 percent reduction in both 2014 and 2015. The House rejected that.

The House is also holding fast to a desire to cap state employee salaries at certain agencies, saving more than $63 million. Certain agencies could request additional funding from the State Finance Council including the Department of Transportation, corrections, Kansas Highway Patrol and state hospitals.

GOP senators have offered an alternative that would provide additional revenues for salaries and wages to blunt the impact sought by the House.

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