Kansas Senate adopts budget bill

Kansas state Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, criticizes budget legislation during a Senate debate, Friday, May 2, 2014, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Milburn)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas senators approved a budget Friday that completes spending for state agencies for 2015, including bonuses for state workers and funds to shrink a waiting list of disabled people needing health services.

The 22-18 vote came after Democrats railed against the spending plan and the lingering effects of income tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013 that have slowed the growth of state revenues. They pointed to budget projections they requested from legislative staff that showed Kansas facing deficits starting in two years.

Sen. Tom Holland, who ran against Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in 2010, said the effort to eliminate income taxes to create economic growth didn’t work, forcing legislators to act in the coming years.

“The grand experiment has failed. The lab rat has died. Rigor mortis has set in,” said Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, negotiated the budget agreement. He said budget profiles have always shown troubles for state spending in future years to varying degrees.

“This is all political wind,” Masterson said of the Democrats’ claims. “What we have here is a budget that I believe is balanced. I do believe we have issues we do need to work on.”

Kansas expects to spend approximately $14.6 billion in 2015 from all funding sources, including nearly $6 billion in state tax collections. The budget agreement includes more than $360 million for the Department of Corrections for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Negotiators finished the bill Thursday, shaking off the previous day’s report that Kansas collected $92 million less in taxes than expected in April. Republicans blamed changes in the federal tax code.

Democrats argued the budget bill is irresponsible and unsustainable.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat on the chambers budget negotiating team, shared budget projections indicating that the impact of the federal tax changes could be as much as $200 million for remainder of 2014’s budget through June 30 and $100 million in 2015. Kansas had more than $700 million in reserves at the end of the last fiscal year.

“We’re essentially blowing through almost all of that,” Kelly said.

She said that would take the state’s cash reserves to as little as $81 million on June 30, 2015, and require spending cuts or new revenues to balance in future years. Kansas constitutionally cannot finish a fiscal year with a deficit, though spending frequently exceeds revenue collections.

In April, Brownback signed a $129 million school finance bill meant to address a Kansas Supreme Court ruling earlier in the year. The spending is aimed at equalizing state aid payments for poor school districts for operations and capital improvements.

The additional spending was factored into Kelly’s revenue projections. However, it doesn’t include any additional money that could be required should a lower court determine that overall school spending is inadequate to satisfy the constitution.

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