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Kansas Legislature Passes Budget in Final Hours of Session

Stephen Koranda
Kansas Public Radio

Kansas Lawmakers wrapped up the 2013 session in the early hours of Sunday morning, narrowly passing a budget that reduces spending through major cuts, particularly to higher education.

The biggest responsibility lawmakers have every year is to pass a state budget. It was questionable whether this proposal could pass the House. The chamber’s leadership was putting pressure on Republicans to pass the budget, saying if they didn’t pass one over the weekend the state could miss payments, like a payment for state worker health insurance.

Majority Leader Jene Vickrey from Louisburg touted the bill for reductions in spending. Some conservative members in the chamber would be happy to see shrinking state government, and Vickrey said this bill starts the process.

“We have an opportunity to bend the cost curve of government," he said.

Democrats and Republicans then lined up to criticize the bill, for not exempting people with developmental disabilities from being included in KanCare, the new managed care program for Medicaid. And the bill was criticized for higher education spending.

“It slashes higher education, which is the one thing we do really well in this state," said Jim Ward a Democrat from Wichita.

The cuts include more than $6 million from Kansas State University, more than $5 million from the University of Kansas and around $8 million from the University of Kansas Medical Center. Ward argued that it didn’t make sense to cut KU Med.

“What’s odd about that is it’s at a time when we are trying to get more doctors," he said. "We don’t have enough to meet the demand, particularly in certain areas of this state.”

KU officials confirmed the numbers on the cuts and called them devastating, but they were questioned by Marc Rhoades, a Republican from Newton, who chairs the House budget writing committee.

“We’re not even sure if that number’s right," said Rhoades. "We see numbers all the time floating around here. That’s what they say it is, I’m not sure that I necessarily believe that.”

Some House members said they wouldn’t support the budget because of more than $6 million in cuts to the department of corrections. Some legislators were concerned that could hurt public safety. Ed Bideau is a Republican from Chanute, and a former prosecutor.

“If somebody’s in the custody of the secretary of corrections, they are because they’re a bad actor, they’re a bad person, and it’s our responsibility as the state of Kansas to protect the public from those people," said Bideau.

But not all the speakers criticized the budget. Representative Virgil Peck, a Republican from Tyro, said it increases funding for public defender salaries and includes a raise for state troopers. Peck and other lawmakers said no budget is perfect.

“I’ve never really seen one that was a perfect budget, as a matter of fact, I don’t expect a perfect budget,” he said.

The bill needed 63 votes, and at first it came up short. It was a 57-57 tie. No Democrats supported the bill.

Many house members were talking on their phones, likely facing some last-minute lobbying to get them to support the bill. And then the votes started to change. Some Republicans switched to yes votes. And soon, they had exactly the 63 votes needed to pass the budget in the House.

In the end, per-student funding for K through 12 education was left flat. Public broadcasting funding was cut about 40 percent, to $600,000. The bill passed in the Senate on a similar tight margin, and is now headed to Gov. Sam Brownback for his consideration.

As the Kansas News Service managing editor, I help our statewide team of reporters find the important issues and breaking news that impact people statewide. We refine our daily stories to illustrate the issues and events that affect the health, well-being and economic stability of the people of Kansas. Email me at skoranda@kcur.org.
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