House advances budget bill; previews school fights to come

By Kansas Association of School Boards
February 04, 2015

The Kansas House on Tuesday advanced a stop-gap funding measure so the state can pay its bills, but the debate showed that the division over how to fix the larger budget mess is as deep and wide as the budget hole itself.

The debate also revealed that school funding will be at the center of major battles to come.

Concerning school funding, H Sub for SB4 delays $20 million in capital outlay equalization to schools and doesn't include $34 million in local option budget equalization. The bill was given preliminary approval on a voice vote and is expected to be up for final approval Wednesday before it goes to the Senate.

House Appropriations Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr. R-Olathe, described those LOB funds as “in flux,” saying legislators want to discuss the funding.

The bill that legislative leaders hope to get on Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk as soon as possible contains a transfer of $158 million in highway funds, $12 million in children’s funds and $55 million from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. It also reduces the state's contribution to the state pension plan- a move that critics said would unravel reforms made to the system.

Legislative leaders say the legislation is needed to cover state bills and balance the current fiscal year budget.

But there is little wiggle room in the proposal and another monthly dip below revenue estimates could cause more trouble.

The Legislature also must turn its attention to an additional shortfall of $435 million in the fiscal year starting July 1.

Debate of the stop-gap measure offered a preview of fights to come.

Moderate Republicans and Democrats blamed the state's fiscal crisis on the 2012 tax cuts signed into law by Brownback.

Those cuts “went too far too fast,” said state Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton. State Rep. Don Schroeder, R-Hesston, said, “I don't think there is a way out of this mess without raising taxes, so get used to it.”

State Rep. Don Hill, R-Emporia, said legislators in 2012 were rushed, pressured and bullied to vote for the tax cuts. He voted against them.

But state Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, said the tax cuts have been good for Kansans, putting more money in their pockets. He said debate over the tax cuts was intense but he didn’t think anyone was bullied.