AP: Kansas House, Senate planning to debate budget proposals

3/18/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — Republican leaders are confident the Kansas Legislature can approve a balanced budget that lowers taxes without making deep cuts to essential state programs, although the two chambers differ on some of the details.

TOPEKA (AP) — Republican leaders are confident the Kansas Legislature can approve a balanced budget that lowers taxes without making deep cuts to essential state programs, although the two chambers differ on some of the details.

The House and Senate are set to begin debate this coming week on bills that propose how to spend some $14 billion, including $6 billion from the state general fund. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said Friday that the House and Senate versions have differences, but both would give the state cash in the bank on June 30, 2014 — the end of the next fiscal year.

"The two do have to be reconciled in conference committee," said Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican.

Bruce said that the state would face a deficit in fiscal year 2018 of approximately $135 million based on current budget and tax projections. The plan calls for 1.8 percent increases in state government spending in each of the next two fiscal years and a 4 percent increase in each year after that.

Senators propose ending balances of $430 million in fiscal year 2014, which starts July 1, and $310 million in fiscal year 2015. House budget writers peg 2014's ending balance at $500 million and 2015's at $420 million.

Legislators built the budgets on tax plans that would make further reductions in income tax rates, although the House version wouldn't keep in place a 2010 increase in the state sales tax rate that is scheduled to expire after June 30. The Senate version would keep the sales tax rate at 6.3 percent, instead allowing it to slip to 5.7 percent.

The Senate passed its tax plan on Thursday, and the House is expected to debate its bill next week.

House Taxation Committee Chairman Richard Carlson said the chamber's tax plan is different from the one proposed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, but has the same goal of eliminating the state's income tax.

"The House plan is responsible and sustainable because it controls spending and you never cut taxes more than the growth of the economy allows," said Carlson, a St. Marys Republican. "We're just taking a slightly different path."

Senate President Susan Wagle said she had concerns about the budget committee's proposed reductions for state research universities and hoped legislators could find savings elsewhere.

"I believe there are places where there is money that we can take a look at," said the Wichita Republican.

Like the Senate, the House budget proposal doesn't cut K-12 schools, public safety or state hospitals. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades said legislators took recommendations from state agencies to make $25 million in spending cuts.

"The budget plan is good for taxpayers," said Rhoades, a Newton Republican. "The House budget identifies savings in areas of state spending that do not affect core services. We are always looking for increased accountability from state agencies as they provide services to Kansans."

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said he's concerned about proposals to siphon money from the state's ongoing highway program to shore up the rest of the state budget. The tax plan that the House is considering would divert $370 million in transportation funds over two years.

Both he and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the transportation program that began in 2010 will create 175,000 jobs during its 10-year lifetime — far more than the Brownback administration has projected from last year's tax cuts.

"This is a self-inflicted budget crisis," Davis said. "This is a budget crisis that was brought on by a massive tax plan that the state just can't afford."

The two Democrats also criticized the proposed budgets for trimming spending from Brownback's recommendations for higher education. The governor has proposed holding spending flat, and Davis and Hensley say reducing it will force tuition increases that will hurt students and their families.

"Everything that's up here right now in terms of a fiscal issue is driven by this insatiable need to go to zero on the income tax — everything," Hensley said. "They've got to have the money in order to try to pay for the income tax cut."

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