Budget negotiators meet

Some progress made resolving House and Senate differences

0 | Budget, Legislature

— House and Senate negotiators met three times today, trying to resolve differences in competing budget plans. They agreed to resume talks at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

The House and Senate budget plans each hew closely to the total $14.1 billion in spending proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback for the fiscal year that starts July 1. But the negotiations began with about 180 differences to be ironed out between the two chambers and a little more than 30 were resolved over the course of today's brief meetings.

One of the issues still unsettled is whether the Kansas Insurance Department may spend any federal dollars to implement the Affordable Care Act before the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the health reform law. The high court began hearing oral arguments on the case today but isn't expected to rule before the Kansas Legislature adjourns for the year later this spring.

The House, which has a number of Republican freshmen who campaigned against the health reform law, included provisions in its budget that would bar Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger from spending about $1.2 million in federal grant dollars her agency received to help plan for a health insurance exchange. Under the Affordable Care Act, each state is required to have an operational exchange by Jan. 1, 2014 or default to a federally run exchange.

The Senate in its budget bill did not include a prohibition on spending the money.

Among the other issues still in dispute:

The Senate bill included $1.5 million for improvements to the Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City, Kan. That state hospital was temporarily closed after failing a fire marshal's inspection. The additional money would be earmarked for capital improvements to allow an additional 14 beds at the hospital after it reopens. The House did not include the funding in its bill.

The Senate deleted $1.2 million for state park operations sought by the administration to make up for money lost when blue-green algae blooms at various state lakes reduced the number of paying visitors at the parks. The House did not delete the money in its plan.

The House bill would block the transfer of about $22 million from the State General Fund to the Kansas Bioscience Authority, which was the subject of legislative hearings earlier this session because of financial irregularities attributed to the authority's former chief executive. The Senate plan would not block the funds transfer.

The Senate's spending plan would shift various domestic violence programs from the Attorney General's Office to the Governor's Office. The House bill would leave the programs with the Attorney General.

The House bill would delete $500,000 from the governor's recommended budget for a proposed program at the Kansas Department of Commerce to help find employment for disabled persons. The Senate did not delete the dollars. The House voted to reconsider the funding when the Legislature does its final budget bill.

The House bill cuts $500,000 sought by the governor for a Health Savings Account program included as a minor component of the administration's Medicaid makeover plan, which is called KanCare. The Senate did not cut that funding.

The House plan also would shift $689,000 for tobacco prevention programs into the State General Fund. The Senate did not approve taking the money from anti-tobacco programs.

The House plan also would shift $5 million from an oil and gas depletion fund that benefits some counties to grants to community mental health centers. The Senate plan included some additional funding for various mental health services, but would not shift money from the oil and gas fund.

The Senate bill included an additional $2.6 million for foster care services. That money was not in the House bill.

The House plan would cut $4.5 million from the Kan-ed program. The Senate plan would not.

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