House panel resumes work on Kansas 2014 budget
By JOHN MILBURN
TOPEKA -- Kansas legislative committees are taking separate paths in trying to solve differences over the state's 2014 budget, and both chambers are hoping to make quick work of lingering issues when lawmakers return to the Statehouse next week.
The House Appropriations Committee met Monday to review spending adjustments required by bills already signed in to law and to receive an update on state revenue estimates. Chairman Marc Rhoades said any decisions made to approve about two dozen spending requests would be included in what he and two other negotiators discuss with Senate counterparts next week.
Rhoades, a Newton Republican, said House leaders didn't want to delay the process by drafting new bills to be debated if talks were still open on the $14 billion state budget.
"They want to get agreements on the budget and taxes and go home," he said.
The Senate, whose budget committee met last Thursday, plans to have a separate catch-all spending bill on its calendar when it returns, which would have to go to the House for debate.
Rep. Jerry Henry, a Cummins Democrat, said he didn't understand why the House wouldn't want to another spending bill to consider and why GOP leaders would want to limit debate.
"Why do we have a fear of sending a bill to the floor of the people's house," Henry said.
One of the biggest obstacles in the budget talks is how to treat higher education. The House proposes a 4 percent cut in spending while the Senate is seeking a 2 percent reduction.
Both are at odds with Republican Gov. Sam Brownback who has been touring the state urging lawmakers to spare higher education from any cuts. He's asking them to endorse his proposal to keep the state's sales tax rate at 6.3 percent instead of letting fall to 5.7 percent as scheduled in July, giving Kansas about $258 million more in revenue.
Brownback has said he prefers legislators settle the tax negotiations before finalizing the budget.