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Kansas House advances $14B state budget

John Milburn, Associated Press

Kansas state Rep. Don Hill, left, an Emporia Republican, consults with J.G. Scott, right, the chief fiscal analyst for the Kansas Legislative Research Department, during a House debate on the budget, Tuesday, March 19, 2013, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The Kansas House gave first-round approval on Tuesday to a proposed $14 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, fending off a series of amendments aimed at public broadcasting funding.

The roll call vote of 71-51 advances the bill to final House action set for Wednesday, which is the same day that the Senate is scheduled to debate its version of the budget.

Under the House two-year budget proposal, the state would annually spend about $6 billion in state general fund revenues from primary tax sources from July 1 of this year through June 30, 214. The remaining $8 billion is raised through a combination of other state fees and federal funds, such as payments for Medicaid services for the poor and disabled.

The entire budget covers spending for public schools and higher education, social services and public safety, including the Highway Patrol, prisons and emergency management.

Rival amendments were offered regarding state support for public broadcasting, but all failed. Conservative Republicans sought to eliminate the entire $600,000 earmarked for each of the next two years from public broadcasting and use the money for either Meals on Wheels for senior citizens or shore up funding for the judicial branch.

Moderate Republicans failed in their effort to take an additional $600,000 from the Department of Commerce to boost public broadcasting funding.

"It's a quality of life issue for rural communities," said Rep. Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican.

The House Appropriations Committee budget made about $25 million in cuts from the budget proposed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. It would leave the state with ending balances of more than $565 million in reserve on June 30, 2014, and about $485 million in reserve on June 30, 2015.

Those figures are contingent upon the House passing a tax package that make further reductions to the state income tax rate but keep in place a rollback of the state sales tax scheduled to expire on June 30. The sales tax was passed in 2010 as a means to shore up state revenues as Kansas plodded through the Great Recession. However, House GOP leaders want to keep the rate at 6.3 percent instead of rolling back to 5.7 percent as planned.

Debate on the tax plan is set for Wednesday, but Democrats started the discussion early, suggesting Tuesday that the House budget only works if the tax plan passes. Legislators are required to pass a balanced budget.

"We have a charge to uphold the Kansas Constitution. We have a responsibility," said Rep. Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis said the state was restrained this session from providing resources to schools, social services and higher education because of the decisions in 2012 to pass cuts to the individual income tax rate and eliminating taxes for some 191,000 businesses.

"We can't properly fund our schools. We can't tell state employees that they are valued," said Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. "We are wedded to this tax cut that benefits the wealthiest of our state."

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades said the cut to higher education was developed after consulting with the Board of Regents institutions that they preferred an across-the-board cut, rather than the budget suggestions they submitted before the session that would trim their budgets.

"We understand that the regents and legislators have expressed concerns about the salary freeze and we will continue to work toward a compromise with the regents to provide flexibility," said Rhoades, a Newton Republican.

This was the first time in recent years that either chamber has passed a two-year budget, a concept proposed by Brownback in effort to give state agencies more stability in funding. Critics said that the process is problematic since legislators lacked accurate revenue projections for fiscal year 2015 to base their decisions. Those figures won't be available until later this year.