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Kansas House panel modifies governor's plan to delay money for capital projects at schools

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TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas would delay $20 million in aid payments to its public schools for four months under a proposal approved by a state House committee Thursday, presented as an alternative to a more aggressive version in Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's plan for balancing the current budget.

The GOP-dominated House Appropriations Committee is working on a bill to eliminate a projected $279 million deficit and expects to vote on it early next week. Brownback's budget-balancing plan closes the gap mostly by shifting dollars from highway projects and various special accounts into the state's main bank account, which finances general government programs and is where the shortfall occurs.

Kansas also faces an additional projected shortfall of $436 million for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1. The shortfalls arose after lawmakers, at Brownback's urging, aggressively cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 to stimulate the economy.

Brownback's budget director has said lawmakers need to approve a budget-balancing bill by Feb. 13 to ensure bills are paid on time. But the governor also proposed to ward off a cash crunch in mid-February by putting off $45 million in payments to school districts until at least June 15.

The money helps school districts pay for building repairs, renovations and equipment, and is designed to supplement funds that poor districts raise from local property taxes. Lawmakers promised the aid to meet a state Supreme Court ruling last year in an education funding lawsuit.

When lawmakers set the current budget last session, they thought the aid would cost $25 million, but it turned out to be $45 million — $20 million more than anticipated. The House committee agreed to delay paying that additional $20 million, but will distribute $25 million on time.

"I think it's a good compromise," said Shawn Sullivan, the governor's budget director.

PHOTO: Kansas state Rep. J.R. Claeys, right, a Salina Republican, confers with Rep. Amanda Grosseroad, left, a Lenexa Republican, during a House Appropriations Committee discussion of budget legislation, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The committee is working on a bill to balance the current state budget. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
Kansas state Rep. J.R. Claeys, right, a Salina Republican, confers with Rep. Amanda Grosseroad, left, a Lenexa Republican, during a House Appropriations Committee discussion of budget legislation, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The committee is working on a bill to balance the current state budget. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Democrats worried delaying any of the aid — part of a larger, $3.7 billion pot of public school funding — would hamstring some school districts if they have unexpected problems, such as roof damage in a storm.

And Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the state's largest teachers' union, said lawmakers are avoiding "the fundamental issue."

"You need to deal with these tax cuts," he said.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee is working on its own budget-balancing bill, but it canceled its meeting Thursday. Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said he wants to see what emerges from the House committee.


Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org


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