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Kansas budget deal falls apart

A meltdown over the Kansas budget late Friday raised the specter of furloughing court employees and leaving some state parks closed as the summer approaches.

“Some people will be hurt,” predicted Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican.

The Legislature was close to adjourning for a three-week break Friday when the House walked away from a compromise on a proposed $14.1 billion spending plan, which includes some supplemental money for operations in the current fiscal year.

A rift apparently had developed between the two chambers over how to pay for $24.6 million in unexpected costs faced by the state’s nearly 300 school districts.

The House had proposed funding schools from the state’s highway department. The Senate, meanwhile, wanted to fund schools from the general fund.

The compromise called for lawmakers to address that issue when they returned from their break April 25. But House negotiators wanted senators to reconsider, and senators didn’t.

“For whatever reason, the House changed their minds on the agreement late today,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican who is the chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to make the progress I had hoped that we would,” she said.

House Speaker Mike O’Neal said his chamber didn’t want the $25 million actually appropriated until the funding source was determined.

“This one alone causes them to go back to the drawing board,” said O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican.

Vratil said senators had been told that failure to get a budget approved would mean the state wouldn’t have enough money to open some parks in time for summer.

Vratil also said schools would be hurt because they wouldn’t get a midyear revenue adjustment to account for increased student enrollment.

The Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is paying salaries out of its road fund and will soon not be able to pay employees at the time of year that many people head out to parks and lakes, McGinn said.

“You can’t just let everybody in your parks and not have somebody there overseeing the operations,” she said.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s office didn’t specifically answer questions about whether state parks would remain closed because of the budget breakdown.

“We are very close to an agreement, which will complete our state’s journey from having only $876.05 in the bank to an ending balance in the hundreds of millions,” the governor’s spokeswoman, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, said in a statement.

“We will continue to work with the Legislature to reach agreement on this vital piece of legislation.”

The budget won’t be taken up again until after lawmakers return next month, which will put the state court system in a bind.

As part of the budget discussions, the state court system counted on the Legislature to approve, by March 31, a $1.4 million supplemental appropriation for this fiscal year.

Back in February, Kansas Chief Justice Lawton Nuss told lawmakers that the courts needed the money or they would be closed and employees would be furloughed for five days. The furloughs could begin April 14, Vratil said Friday afternoon.

O’Neal said the courts have funds they can draw from in order to get by until the Legislature approves the appropriation.

In his letter to lawmakers, Nuss noted that there have been suggestions that the judicial branch could borrow from other fee funds to avoid furloughing employees. He said that would risk the money not being replenished if the supplemental appropriation isn’t passed.

Nuss also said the judiciary has already borrowed from those funds to cover other revenue shortfalls. He said there would be more problems in 2013 if the judiciary borrowed more from those funds and it’s confronted with more revenue shortfalls because of continued decline in court filings.

Vratil said the ramifications of Friday’s vote weren’t necessarily cataclysmic but added they could fall heaviest on court workers.

Court employees “are underpaid as it is and overworked, and now they’re going to lose income for five days that they rely on.”

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