Government & Politics

Millions more may be cut out of budget

TOPEKA — Looming cuts to this year's budget and less money for the next year could translate into fewer meals for seniors, larger class sizes in public schools and deeper cuts to state programs which have already go through several reductions.

Under current revenue projections, lawmakers could be faced with cutting more than $100 million from the current year's budget, which started July 1, when they return to the Statehouse in January.

The actual number is likely to be much more, said Rep. Jason Watkins, R-Wichita, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He estimated the cuts would probably come to

$300

million to $400 million, if not more.

"Either way, it means the same thing: we're going to have to find additional areas to cut," he said.

Kansas has seen four rounds of spending reductions this year from its $13 billion annual budget. Those previous cuts are already starting to affect state services, department heads told lawmakers on Monday.

Any additional cuts to public schools would mean more laid-off teachers and bigger class sizes.

"You cannot make this many cuts across the state without it affecting kids," said Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner for the Department of Education.

Enrollment continues to rise, however, and so does the number of students qualifying for free or reduced price lunches. Keeping up with those factors alone will cost the state an additional $36 million this year.

In addition to hearing an update Monday on an increasingly gloomy budget picture, lawmakers held discussions to two options that could help the state's coffers — consolidating some of the state's 293 school districts and a tax on nursing home beds to help access more federal money.

While Watkins thought there was some merit in examining consolidating school districts, he did not think the budget should be balanced with additional taxes.

"At some point we have to get realistic about how much a state with 2.8 million people can support," he said.

The consolidation of rural school districts could save several million dollars, but not in time to help with the immediate budget gap, Dennis said.

The House budget committee is in Topeka this week trying to get an early handle on impending budget cuts.

Lawmakers will find out how much deep the cuts will be when the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group releases its figures in early November. The group meets twice a year to forecast the state's revenue. The state builds its budgets off the numbers.

While Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, can order state agencies to make cuts he will monitor revenue for October and November before making any decisions, said spokeswoman Beth Martino.

"If our revenue continues to drop the way it's been dropping, we're in for drastic changes to the way government is funded," said Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, chairman of the budget committee.

Monday afternoon sub-committees heard from different agencies on what cuts had already been made, and from where further cuts might come.

Most also proposed increasing portions of their budgets. but admitted that would be difficult.

"We are not delusional — we know these won't be funded in their entirety," said Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby, presenting the programs his department hopes to bolster.

The wish list includes more money for health facility surveyors, community-based child care licensing services and matching funds for preparedness funding.

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