By Gene Meyer, KansasReporter
May 11, 2011
Re-published with permission
TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas’ legislative budget negotiators late Wednesday evening struck a deal designed to end the state’s fiscal 2012 spending plan with a $50 million surplus.
The new proposed budget broadly calls for a nearly 6 percent reduction in all funds spending, to about $14 billion, in the fiscal year beginning July 1, but a 6 percent increase in state general fund spending, the part primarily paid by Kansas taxpayers, to about $6.1 billion.
Both those totals very nearly match what Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback proposed in January and reflect both a drop in federal funding from stimulus programs that have expired plus increased state spending needed to offset the federal cuts, aides say.
The plan must still be approved by both houses of the legislature, which is one of the last things each is expected to do before adjourning later this week, and by the governor.
The three House and three Senate negotiators, led by House Appropriations Committee Chair Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican, and Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican, met nearly two dozen times in the last three weeks, to transform a spending plan that in January appeared headed toward a $500 milllion deficit into the proposal struck Wednesday designed to produce a $50 million surplus.
Ending 2012 with a healthy balance is critical, House budget writers and Gov. Brownback have insisted throughout this set of negotiations, because a temporarily increased Kansas retail sales tax passed last year is set to expire in 2013 and reduce what historically is one of the state’s largest revenue sources after personal income taxes.
Brownback in a statement released Wednesday night called the agreement a “victory for Kansas,” because lawmakers were able to turn the expected huge deficit into a modest surplus – equal to less than 1 percent of planned state general fund revenue spending – without raising taxes.
Senate Vice President John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, who has served in the Senate since 1998 and as a budget negotiator this session, said the two sides “dealt with more issues that took longer to resolve than I ever recall.”
House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, said the what the negotiators did turning the expected deficit into a surplus, “is pretty remarkable.”
It in effect is the largest reduction of spending proposals made by a sitting governor in memory, O’Neal said.
The plan cuts base state aid for Kansas elementary through high school students to $3,780 per pupil from $4,012 currently, but increases total state spending per pupil to $4,743 counting state contributions to educator’s pension plans, special education funding and other programs. Those totals are higher than what House members initially voted last month, but lower than what the Senate proposed.
Negotiations seemed largely stalled last weekend, but picked up Monday and Tuesday as the three state Senators and Representatives on the conference committee reached agreement on some previous sticking points.
Among them were the restoration of a $5 million Fair Fares air service subsidy for Wichita, some $5.5 million in operating funds for Washburn University in Topeka that amount to half that school’s operating budget, and $1.5 million in funds for Kansas public broadcasting services, all of which the House initially voted to cut.
Committee members also agreed to allocate $15 million in research grant money for the University of Kansas, Kansas State University and Wichita State University to the Kansas Department of Commerce, as proposed by Brownback and voted by the House, instead of to the Board of Regents as the Senate wanted.
The money is to be divided equally among the three schools and used, with matching funds,raised by those schools to support centers of excellence for cancer research at KU, animal health research at K-State and aviation research at Wichita State. House members and the governor wanted the Commerce Department to control that funding, in part to help assure the research would be geared to real world applications.
Some of the last big ticket items settled Wednesday were a $4 million reduction in Kansas Board of Regents appropriations to reduce funding for the Kan-Ed broadband network in sparsely populated western Kansas, and the transfer of $ 1 million in Kansas Bioscience Authority Funding to Wichita State University’s Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research. CIBOR, as the center is known, earlier complained that Bioscience executives failed to deliver some promised investment funds. Those accusations, which led to Senate Commerce Committee hearings on the Authority’s financial practices, remain unresolved.
Connect with Benjamin Hodge at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, The Kansas Progress, and LibertyLinked. Hodge is President of the State and Local Reform Group of Kansas. He served as one of seven at-large trustees at Johnson County Community College from 2005-’09, a member of the Kansas House from 2007-’08, a delegate to the Kansas Republican Party from 2009-’10, and was founder of the Overland Park Republican Party in 2011. His public policy record is recognized by Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Association of Broadcasters,the Kansas Press Association, the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, the NRA, Kansans for Life, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).