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Kansas House and Senate begin budget negotiations

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas House and Senate negotiators held their first meetings Tuesday to settle differences over the 2014 and 2015 state budgets, a process expected to take at least the next couple of weeks.

The House and Senate have both approved $14 billion spending plans for each of the next two fiscal years that closely resemble a proposal offered by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Two Republicans and one Democrat from each chamber met for about 30 minutes to hear an initial offer from the House on resolving several hundred items. Senators countered with suggestions of their own at an afternoon gathering.

Republican legislative leaders have said the negotiations could last several weeks, in part because the work is tied to progress on tax measures pending in both chambers.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican, and House Speaker Ray Merrick a Stilwell Republican, say it is better to know the results of the tax debate before pursuing budget resolutions in case legislators have to make spending changes.

In addition, a group of economists, researchers and government staff will meet in mid-April to calculate how much revenue Kansas can expect to collect during the next 18 months, based on economic conditions, last year's changes in tax codes and other demands on state resources. Rhoades said state revenues were running $65 million above estimates through February and were anticipated to be another $30 million more in March.

The additional revenue would help relieve concerns about keeping healthy reserve funds to help the state maintain cash flow.

However, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson said he would prefer legislators complete work on the bulk of spending items before taking their monthlong recess in April. Legislators are scheduled to work until April 5 then return to the Statehouse on May 8 to complete remaining business for this session.

"That way we're just looking at making adjustments and not the entire budget," said Masterson, an Andover Republican. "Otherwise, you open the door to a lot of changes."

The House and Senate's budgets each would spend about $6 billion in state revenue and $8 billion from other sources for fiscal year 2014, beginning July 1, 2013 and fiscal year 2015, beginning July 1, 2014. Brownback proposed the two-year budget process in an effort to give state agencies more stability in planning ongoing programs.