Senate approves budget

Additional money included for social service waiting lists, public schools and Larned hospital

0 | Budget, Legislature

— The Kansas Senate today, by a wide, bipartisan margin, approved its latest version of the state budget after members agreed to add about $77 million for public schools, $5 million to help reduce the waiting list for services for the disabled and $1.9 million to help deal with understaffing at Larned State Hospital.

Total spending additions from the amendments approved during the almost four-hour debate totaled about $129.6 million, according to a preliminary tally by legislative staffers. That total included $45 million earmarked as aid to local governments that reduce property taxes.

The plan approved by the Senate would push state general fund spending to about $6.3 billion in the fiscal year that starts July 1. The total state budget, including federal aid, would be about $14.4 billion under the proposal that was voted against by only five Republican senators.

Also approved was an amendment that would authorize $500,000 in state funds to help a southeast Kansas economic development initiative known as Project 17. The project has been promoted by four southeast Kansas senators as a way to boost employment in the state's poorest region.

That money was included in an earlier Senate budget bill but was surrendered during negotiations with the House as a conference committee tried to come up with a spending plan acceptable to both chambers. Inclusion of that line item in Substitute for Senate Bill 499 means it will be harder for Senate negotiators to concede to the House on it. The House did not include money for the project in its budget plan.

Sen. Terrie Huntington, a Fairway Republican, successfully offered an amendment that would delay for 12 months the inclusion of long-term services for the developmentally disabled in Gov. Sam Brownback's plan to privatize the state Medicaid program. The provision was written in consultation with the Governor's Office, Huntington and other senators said. The administration previously announced it favored delaying inclusion of the services until Jan. 1, 2014, which would be one year after the governor's plan, KanCare, is slated to start, pending federal approvals.

But Huntington's amendment would postpone the inclusion until one year after the start of KanCare, regardless of when the program is launched.

Sen. Dick Kelsey, a Goddard Republican, said that distinction was important because it was possible, even likely, that the needed federal approvals for the proposed Medicaid makeover might delay KanCare's launch until July 1, 2013, or later. Kelsey has been among the leading legislative proponents of delaying the program's start until July 1, 2013.

KanCare would shift virtually all the state's 380,000 Medicaid beneficiaries into managed care plans run by for-profit insurance companies. The administration is reviewing bid proposals offered by five companies and is slated to pick three finalists from among them sometime later this month.

Huntington also offered the successful amendment to add $5 million to help reduce waiting lists for home- and community-based services for the physically and developmentally disabled. The provision would add $2.5 million for each of those Medicaid waiver programs.

There are about 7,000 disabled Kansans on waiting lists, which has put the Brownback administration at odds with federal officials who recently announced they were calling in the U.S. Department of Justice to handle the ongoing investigation of whether the state is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The complaints from disabled Kansans about the waiting lists previously were being reviewed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The governor has insisted that the state is in full compliance with the law and last week sent a letter saying so to the HHS director of civil rights.

It wasn't immediately clear if the additional money for the waiting list would appease federal concerns. Federal officials have declined to comment publicly about their investigation. Huntington's amendment would provide enough money to remove about 400 people from the waiting lists.

In other legislative news today, a House-Senate negotiating team trying to settle differences over tax policy did not meet for a second day due to time-consuming Senate floor debates. And Brownback officials took issue with projections provided by the Legislature's research arm outlining the budget consequences of tax-cutting proposals advanced by the negotiators and endorsed by the governor.

Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan and Budget Director Steve Anderson said the Legislature's projected costs of the tax cuts were significantly overstated.

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