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Kansas Senate approves $14B state budget bill

John Milburn, Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The Kansas Senate gave final approval Thursday to a $14 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, setting the table for negotiations over a final spending bill with the House.

The Senate plan advanced on 24-16 along party lines, receiving no support from the chamber's Democrats, who were critical of the budget and its lack of additional funding for community corrections, higher education and public schools.

Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, criticized the budget, saying spending was being reduced only because legislators were constrained by the reduced revenue caused by tax cuts signed in to law by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012.

"The bill is far too expensive," said Holland, alluding to further revenue reductions expected in the coming year as the income tax cut is fully implemented.

But Republican backers praised the bill, which would spend $6 billion in state general revenues and another $8 billion in federal and other sources in each of the next two years.

"This is one of the first budgets I have had the pleasure of voting 'aye' on since I've been up here," said Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican. "It represents a fundamental shift in our government's ability to grow jobs and find efficiencies and innovations."

The House approved its budget bill Wednesday. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades said negotiators from the two chambers are expected to begin meeting next week to work out a final version. Legislators hope to approve the final version of the budget before taking a one-month spring break beginning in early April.

Differences will be worked out by three House members and three senators in a conference committee. The two sides — two Republicans and one Democrat from each chamber — will compare individual line items in each bill and attempt to negotiate a common position.

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.

The Senate budget 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. The House plan would allow the rate to drop to 5.7 percent on July 1 as scheduled.

"We don't have much flexibility in our positions," said Rhoades, a Newton Republican, adding that in general the House and Senate plans are similar.

He said he wasn't sure how firm the House GOP caucus would be on leaving ample revenues in the state's ending balance, which were dealt a blow with passage of the House tax plan.

Both chambers' proposals closely follow Brownback's proposal for spending on K-12 education, social services and public safety.

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 chambers' versions also differ in their treatment of higher education.

The Senate approved a 2 percent cut — roughly $15 million— of funding to state university, community colleges and technical schools. The House's cut doubled the Senate cut.

The House bill also drops $3.5 million 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.


Text of House budget bill: http://bit.ly/10iBOtf

Text of Senate budget bill: http://bit.ly/15sS1vb