KHI News Service

Kansas House approves spending plan

Stage set for negotiations with Senate

By Mike Shields | May 09, 2012

After more than nine hours of debate, members of the Kansas House late Tuesday approved a state spending plan, setting the stage for a new round of negotiations with the Senate.

The chambers are divided on a variety of budget details and the House plan would spend about $165 million less from the state general fund than the Senate has approved. Total general fund spending would be about $6.1 billion from an overall budget of about $14 billion, once federal aid and other less discretionary accounts are included.

According to estimates of legislative staffers, the House budget would leave a fiscal 2013 ending balance of roughly $700 million without taking into account a tax-cutting proposal endorsed by Republican members of a conference committee. The Senate is expected to consider that tax proposal later today.

The core issues of the 2012 session - budget, redistricting and tax cuts - remain on the table, which means the likelihood the Legislature will wrap up its business this week is dwindling.

About two dozen amendments were offered during the House debate. But few of major significance were adopted.

Perhaps most notable was the first one offered. It came from Rep. Clay Aurand, R-Belleville, and would shift $50 million from the highway department to public schools. It is not expected to survive negotiations with the Senate, which has a plan that would add about $77 million for K-12 without raiding transportation funds.

"We do need a position when we go to conference committee," Aurand told fellow members.

His amendment was approved 99-17 with nine members not voting.

The House operates under the so-called pay-go rule, which means that once a budget plan arrives on the floor its bottom line cannot be significantly altered. Any proposed change in the bill must be offset by cuts to other programs.

That rule was decried several times during the course of the debate, particularly by Democrats, but was not upended by votes seeking exception.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, followed Aurand with an amendment that would have postponed until 2016 the inclusion of long-term services for the developmentally disabled in the governor's Medicaid makeover plan.

The governor and Senate had already endorsed postponing for one year inclusion of the services within KanCare, which is scheduled to launch Jan. 1, 2013, pending federal approvals.

Ward's proposal was defeated 65-54 with six members not voting.

Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Cummings, got approval for an amendment adding $5 million to help reduce the waiting lists for Medicaid services for the physically and developmentally disabled. It would shift the money from the state's fund for ongoing litigation with other states over water from the Arkansas and Republican rivers. The litigation fund is strongly defended by rural legislators, but Henry's amendment succeeded 60-56. It also would add about $800,000 to a program that benefits low-income seniors.

The $5 million for the waiting lists also has been approved by the Senate.

Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, successfully offered an amendment authorizing state welfare officials to administer $2 million in grants to local programs that assist victims of domestic violence. The money historically has been managed under contract with the state by a nonprofit group.

Officials at the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence last week announced they had ceased contract renewal talks with the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services because they disagreed with some of the state's new contracting requirements.

Mast said if the state oversaw the funding itself, an additional $300,000 once paid in administrative fees could be spent on direct services.

Her amendment was approved with an unrecorded voice vote.

Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, succeeded with an amendment that would allow SRS to establish a new system for withholding overdue child support payments from state lottery winners who are found to be in arrears. He said the new system's $150,000 cost could be absorbed within the agency's budget. Lottery winners currently are monitored for state arrears by the Department of Administration, which takes a 17 percent processing fee on the collections, DeGraaf said.

His amendment also was approved with an unrecorded voice vote.

Rep. Annie Kuether, D-Topeka, failed with an amendment to provide an additional $1 million in wage increases for state hospital employees, an effort to match the earlier approval in the House and Senate of about $2 million to help boost wages and recruit nurses at Larned State Hospital, which recently was faulted by national surveyors for a range of problems related to understaffing.

Rep. Marc Rhoades, the Newton Republican who chairs the House budget committee, said the money for the other hospital workers would be premature because state welfare officials have signaled they intend to do a wage study in the coming months and likely will propose some spending increases for the other hospitals to next year's Legislature.

Rep. Clark Schultz, R-Lindsborg, had an amendment allowing SRS to work with private colleges to help them enroll young adults leaving the state's foster care system. The agency already has similar arrangements with state universities that have agreed to waive some costs for those who enroll from foster care.

An amendment adding $1.8 million for community mental health centers to assess patients seeking admission to residential psychiatric treatment facilities was approved. It was offered by Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City Democrat, and passed 90-31.

Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, gained approval for an amendment that would shift $432,000 to Meals on Wheels, which provides food to seniors. The money would come from the Legislature's audit division to be used for rotating efficiency audits of local school districts.

The amendment was approved 80-40.

Near the end of the long debate, Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, offered an amendment authorizing the director of the budget to study the pros and cons of selling the University of Kansas Hospital.

Several legislators spoke against the idea, saying it could endanger KU Medical Center's bid to win National Cancer Institute designation.

Suellentrop withdrew the amendment after House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, took the microphone for the only time during the debate and called the amendment "a bad idea at a bad time."

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