Budget Cuts Could Reach $300 Million
January 23, 2009
By JEANNINE KORANDA
Wichita Eagle - Topeka bureau
TOPEKA - The Senate's Republican leaders say they need to cut about twice as much from the current state budget as Democrat Kathleen Sebelius suggested.
"It's the math: $300 million, we think, is about what it is going to take to fill the hole this year," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, on Thursday. He said he hoped that amount would include about $50 million to start the 2010 budget.
Sebelius built her budget proposal around a $141 million shortfall projected late last year. But revenue has continued to decline; the projected shortfall now sits at $186 million and growing.
"We hope it ($300 million) will be enough, but it may not because of the downturn," said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, who sits on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. "A lot is going to depend on what kind of revenues continue to come in."
Lawmakers say they want to push though cuts in the 2009 budget, which ends June 30, so they can start work on the 2010 budget. Between the two budgets, lawmakers have to fill a revenue hole of nearly $1 billion.
"I think we are still trying to get our arms around what is necessary to balance this budget without a tax increase," said Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.
She said across-the-board cuts are still an option but added that there needs to be consensus.
Schmidt has consistently advocated across-the-board cuts.
Sebelius did not offer such cuts in her proposal. Instead, she recommended cuts to public universities and several state agencies, and reduced payments to local governments. But she tried to preserve funding for social services and public primary and secondary education.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said across-the-board cuts would be opposed by many Democrats, who say they would disproportionately hurt programs such as social services and poorer school districts, which receive more money from the state.
Hensley said he thought Sebelius would be willing to come up with recommendations for additional cuts if revenue figures continued to decline.
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said she thought all options need to be brought back into play, including some that Republicans haven't liked, such as taking money from fee funds, such as those overseen by Board of Cosmetology, to bolster the state general fund.
McGinn said she hoped to see a budget proposal sent out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee early next week.
The House has been working on its version of cuts.
House Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Rep. Jason Watkins, R-Wichita, said he thought the $300 million figure was about right but lawmakers could be coming back to the budget in April if revenue continued to slide.
He thought the House committee might have something approved near the end of next week. He expects those cuts to be targeted instead of across the board, but warned they could be substantial.
"If the numbers are bigger then the cuts will run deeper," he said.