TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas senators gave first-round approval Wednesday to their version of the next state budget, including language that would require legislative approval before the state could expand Medicaid coverage.
The bill, which would spend $14 billion in each of the next two fiscal years, was debated for more than five hours. Final action is set for Thursday, which would set the stage for negotiators to work out differences with the House over spending.
"We always have to weigh the decisions. We really are weighing priorities through this," said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican.
Senators included a provision in the budget bill that leaves open the possibility of Kansas taking a federal offer to expand Medicaid health care coverage, but only if legislators give Republican Gov. Sam Brownback their consent. Brownback has opposed the federal health care act but has said his administration was looking at all options.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said other states were finding creative ways to expand Medicaid without draining state resources and such moves deserved consideration before closing the door on the federal offer.
Both House and Senate bills would spend some $14 billion — $6 billion in general state revenues and $8 billion from federal and other sources — in each of the next two years, beginning July 1. The House took final action on its proposal Wednesday morning, approving it on a 68-55 vote, sending it to the Senate.
One difference between House and Senate versions was the treatment of higher education.
The House trimmed $30 million from state universities, community colleges and technical schools through a 4 percent reduction. Senators are seeking a 2 percent cut, roughly $15 million.
Balancing the House budget depends heavily upon passage of a tax bill, which received first-round approval Wednesday. The task was made more difficult when the bill was amended to remove a $382 million transfer from transportation programs over the next two years.
House 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 Brownback. One exception is the deletion by the House for $3.5 million in funding for a new Kansas Bureau of Investigation to be built at Washburn University in Topeka. Senators kept money for the lab in the budget, aimed at helping the KBI reduce a backlog of forensic evidence waiting to be processed.
For public schools, 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 for moving 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 Senate plan would be funded in part through revenues raised by a tax proposal already approved by the chamber. That plan leaves the sales tax rate at 6.3 percent, as it has been since 2010, instead of dropping to 5.7 percent as scheduled on July 1.
Differences in 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."
During debate, senators restored $5 million in funding for research institutes at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University. The money was taken from a trust fund established through oil and natural gas production.
Under debate rules known as pay-as-you-go, senators were required to find a source of funding in the budget if they wanted to increase funding elsewhere. The procedure produced emotional discussion in the chamber as legislators tried to divert money to areas they felt were being ignored, such as reducing the wait times for people with disabilities seeking services.
"All we're doing is taking it from some people who desperately need it and giving it to other people who need it very desperately," said Sen. Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican.
Text of House budget bill: http://bit.ly/10iBOtf
Text of Senate budget bill: http://bit.ly/15sS1vb