Kan. lawmakers resume budget talks, quickly stall

Associated Press
Kansas House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, right, a Newton Republican, seeks more time to develop proposals in budget negotiations, Monday, May 9, 2011, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Rhoades is the House's lead negotiator in talks with the Senate, and watching him is Rep. Bill Feuerborn, of Garnett, the House Democrat involved in the discussions. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
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Kansas House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, right, a Newton Republican, seeks more time to develop proposals in budget negotiations, Monday, May 9, 2011, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Rhoades is the House's lead negotiator in talks with the Senate, and watching him is Rep. Bill Feuerborn, of Garnett, the House Democrat involved in the discussions.

Republican legislators in Kansas showed no signs Monday that they're closer to resolving their biggest disagreements over a $14 billion state budget, though they want to avoid the political embarrassment of having to schedule extra days in session.

Three senators and three House members resumed negotiations over the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. They had two sessions, sandwiching a Senate Ways and Means Committee meeting where the panel endorsed a new budget proposal that moves closer to the House goal of leaving $50 million in cash reserves when the next fiscal year concludes at the end of June 2012.

"It just seems like we're starting to slow down," said Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican. "I think it could be appealing to more of our (Senate) colleagues because it has a higher ending balance."

The Senate approved its original budget proposal in March with a 36-3 vote and less than $5 million in reserves at the end of fiscal year 2012.

The next budget is likely to cut overall state spending between 5 percent and 6 percent to eliminate a projected shortfall. It's also likely to reduce education funding enough to force public school districts to consider laying off teachers and other employees before the summer.

Republicans have large majorities in both chambers, but GOP leaders still have sharp disagreements over the budget, and dozens of issues haven't been resolved. House Republican leaders want the next budget to leave cash reserves of at least $50 million when June 2012 ends; Senate leaders would sacrifice that cushion so that spending cuts could be less severe.

Legislators can't wrap up their business for the year until the negotiators agree on the budget and each chamber approves the compromise. Monday was the 87th day of their annual session, with 90 days scheduled.

"We know there's a timing issue now," said lead House negotiator Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican and chairman of this chamber's Appropriations Committee. "We are definitely in a time crunch."

Rhoades said the House needed time to consider the latest Senate offer and the bill McGinn's committee endorsed. Talks were to resume Tuesday morning.

"We don't see it as super helpful," he said of the Senate's actions.

The state constitution specifies 90-day annual sessions, but it's not an absolute limit, so legislators can — and often have — exceeded it. But legislators must vote to extend their time at the Statehouse, and consider forgoing their daily salary and expense payments to avoid creating additional budget headaches.

Also, legislators weren't in session the past two weekends but still were paid. Senate budget negotiators had anticipated that House negotiators would develop new proposals this weekend — only to hear Rhoades ask for additional time.

"I'm frustrated in the fact that we left here Friday, and they said they would put some new packages together — new ideas," said McGinn, the lead Senate. "They basically came back with nothing."

But Rhoades said developing new proposals is difficult because senators haven't been receptive to past ones.

The next budget will cut overall spending by between $770 million and $870 million, with much of the decrease triggered by the disappearance of federal economic stimulus funds.

The Senate's version of the budget would cut the state's general aid to schools by $226 per student, or about 5.6 percent. GOP Gov. Sam Brownback proposed a cut of $232 per student, and the House passed a cut of $250 per student.

The current aid figure is $4,012 per student. Any of the proposals would drop the figure to its lowest mark since the 1999-2000 school year.

But the Senate had bipartisan support for its budget and is seeking to keep the cut in aid to schools as small as possible. The House wants to offset its proposed cut with authority for school districts to tap into reserve funds, but a House bill granting that authority hasn't gotten much traction in the Senate.

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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