KHI News Service

Legislature adjourns

After debating budget into early morning Friday

By Mike Shields | May 13, 2011

The Kansas Legislature finished its heavy lifting for the year about about 6 a.m. today.

The Senate approved a budget late Thursday night. The House began work on the bill at 1 a.m. and ended debate a couple hours later with a vote approving it, 69-55.

After weeks of contention over a spending plan, the debate in the Senate took only about an hour and when it ended, 28 senators had voted to approve the $13.8 billion budget blueprint and 11 voted against it.

The opposition in the upper chamber came mostly from Democrats who said the budget bill for the fiscal year that starts July 1 was too punitive to state workers. But three Republicans also voted against it, including Sens. Chris Steineger of Kansas City, Vicki Schmidt of Topeka and Dennis Pyle of Hiawatha. Sen. Roger Reitz, a Manhattan Republican, voted for the bill but delivered a harsh critique of the measure because of its cuts to social services and state employees. And Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, was not present to vote.

Total state spending for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, is on track to reach $14.7 billion, according to the Legislature's fiscal analysts. But the budget the Senate and House approved for the coming fiscal year was $13.8 billion or about 6 percent less. That reduction mostly came because federal economic stimulus dollars that started flowing to states in 2009 are scheduled to dry up June 30.

The state's share of the total budget in fiscal 2012 actually would grow under the plan from $5.6 billion in 2011 to about $6 billion.

But the loss of federal aid and unwillingness to consider new taxes after last year's 1 cent sales tax increase, translated into a new budget that would reduce base state aid to public schools by $232 per student, reduce state employee benefits and eliminate scheduled pay raises for many state workers whose wages fall below those of their private-sector counterparts.

The budget plan would impose a 2.5 percent surcharge on health premiums paid by public employees in the state health plan, producing about $1.5 million to help finance state government operations.

Among other cuts spelled out in the budget bill, the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services saw its administrative spending reduced by $1 million and its overall budget apart from social service caseloads reduced by about 5 percent on top of a 2.5 percent cut ordered for all agencies. Also cut was $1 million from aSRS doption services. The General Assistance program at SRS also would be entirely eliminated, effecting about 2,000 needy individuals.

SRS officials earlier in the session told House budget writers — among other things — that they likely would consolidate some regional offices as a result of the cuts.

They also provided a list of agency programs that could expect cuts but without specifics.

"There's a lot of pain in this budget," said Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Cummings, during the House budget debate.

The budget plan crafted by House and Senate negotiators left intact $2.2 million for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment that the House initially had proposed cutting. Instead, House and Senate negotiators agreed that $1.2 million of the sum should be directed by the agency to the state's safety net clinics and $1 million to local public health departments.

State grants to community mental health centers were held steady at about $10 million.

Funding for Kan-ed, a program that provides databases and broadband Internet access to the state's hospitals, libraries and public schools, was reduced from $10 million to $6 million.

One of the few programs that benefited from an increase in funding was a teen pregnancy prevention program at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. It went from $100,000 in fiscal 2011 to $299,000 for fiscal 2012.

Also in the final hours, the Legislature approved a catch-all health policy bill that held licensing provisions for some emergency medical personnel, advanced nurse practitioners, mental health counselors and some other types of medical professionals. House Bill 2182 also contained provisions considered important for advancing the development of a statewide health information exchange.

The bill passed both chambers by wide margins after House and Senate negotiators on Thursday afternoon succeeded in laying aside differences over a bill that would have banned smoking on the gaming floors of state-owned casinos. The Senate never agreed to vote on that smoking bill, so it was lost.

Both chambers also approved a bill pushed by anti-abortion advocates that would bar insurance companies in the state from selling policies that include abortion coverage. Those in the private insurance market who wanted the coverage would have to buy separate riders. The bill also would prohibit the sale of abortion coverage in policies or riders for coverage sold through a health insurance exchange.

The federal health reform law passed last year requires that all states have at least one functioning exchange by Jan. 1, 2014.

The exchanges will be the place where insurance is made available to Medicaid beneficiaries and those who buy private insurance with the help of government tax credits.

Opponents of the measure said it would deny important health services to women of lower income. But supporters said those who oppose abortion shouldn't have to subsidize the purchase of insurance that covers the procedure.

Sine Die, the ceremonial conclusion of the session, was scheduled for June 1.