Kansas Lawmakers Work To Resolve Differences Between Budget Plans
The Kansas House and Senate worked into the night Thursday on a state budget, just two days after voting to scuttle Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax policies amid a projected $900 million shortfall over the next two years.
Negotiators from both chambers launched into evening talks shortly after the House passed a multiyear spending plan that differs from the Senate’s on key points such as pay raises for state employees.
Lawmakers are just days from setting a record for the state’s longest legislative session. But if negotiations proceed smoothly, they could wrap up the budget this week.
Senators passed their budget Sunday. After hours of debate Thursday, 99 of the House’s 125 members approved their 500-page spending blueprint, which includes appropriations of more than $6 billion annually from the state general fund.
“We’re able to balance our budget, pay our bills, have an ending balance,” Topeka Republican Rep. Brenda Dietrich said after casting her vote in favor. “And any of the additional spending that we’re doing is primarily necessity, which is making our KPERS payments.”
Olathe Republican Rep. Erin Davis described the lengthy floor debate as positive.
“I just want to commend the leadership for letting us actually have a debate on the floor,” she said. “It’s been a few years since we’ve been able to do that, and let the entire chamber have their say.”
But the bill met with opposition from some conservatives who decried state spending as too high, and from some Democrats who said the package doesn’t do enough.
“My biggest disappointment is it does not include a raise for many, many, many of my constituents that work for the state and have not gotten a raise for going on 10 years,” said Topeka Democratic Rep. Vic Miller, who expressed hope the House would defer to the Senate’s position, which includes salary increases for state employees. “Should they do that then I’ll likely vote yes.”
The Senate’s plan includes about $120 million over the next two fiscal years for that purpose.
Some lawmakers also worried the Legislature will continue to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars from the Kansas Department of Transportation to cover other areas of the state budget.
“We can’t keep doing it this way,” said Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat.
Other features of the House budget include higher payments into the pension system in 2018, nearly $5 million for additional beds at Osawatomie State Hospital and extra funding for maintenance and repair staff at Larned State Hospital.
The House plan boosts support for community mental health centers and services designed for seniors who need assistance to be able to stay in their homes longer. It also alleviates budget cuts at Kansas State University and the University of Kansas, which experienced steeper reductions in state aid than other Board of Regents institutions last year.
The Senate’s version differs on dozens of points, from pension payments to IT and health care spending.
Negotiators didn’t need to cover K-12 spending Thursday because the House and Senate agreed on an education budget earlier this week and sent it to Brownback.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ.