TOPEKA, Kan. –
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) Kansas House members voted Friday to boost spending on mental health services but refused to consider helping public schools cover unanticipated costs during a debate on a proposed $14.1 billion state budget.
The House considered numerous amendments to the spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1, which was drafted by its Republican-dominated Appropriations Committee. GOP leaders expected the budget to win first-round approval, with a final vote Monday determining whether it would pass and go to the Senate.
The Appropriations Committee stuck closely to many of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s spending recommendations as it sought to ensure the state would be left with a comfortable cushion of cash reserves next year, while leaving room for significant income tax cuts. But parts of the committee’s budget generated bipartisan criticism, particularly when it came to spending on schools and community mental health services.
“There are always going to be things around the edges that folks agree or disagree on,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican.
The budget ultimately approved by the House is likely to cut overall state spending by about $600 million, or about 4 percent, and it could leave the state with cash reserves of more than $500 million at the end of June 2013, depending on how much lawmakers cut taxes.
But the House approved, 75-46, an amendment from Rep. Pat Colloton, a Leawood Republican, to add $5 million for grants to community mental health centers. The Appropriations Committee had accepted Brownback’s proposal to spend $10 million on the centers, which Colloton noted was down from $30 million several years ago.
Colloton, chairwoman of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, said squeezing community services means mentally ill Kansas residents who commit minor crimes are for more likely to be jailed instead of receiving treatment.
“We are putting mentally ill people in cages,” Colloton said. “This is a situation that is abominable.”
Some legislators objected to Colloton’s proposal because it would tap mineral severance tax revenues that otherwise would be distributed to the state’s 105 counties.
When it came to public schools, Brownback’s recommendations included an additional $29 million to cover costs districts faced during the current school year because of higher-than-expected enrollment and because more students than expected need programs to avoid failing. Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee deleted the money, arguing that the state’s 286 school districts should tap into their cash reserves first.
Rep. Bill Feuerborn, a Garnett Democrat, asked the House to go with the governor’s proposal, but the House voted 72-49 against allowing debate on the idea because Feuerborn said he’d dip into the state’s cash reserves to pay for it.
On another issue, the House showed overwhelming support for a policy enacted by Brownback’s administration in October that cut off food stamps to hundreds of U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. The vote was 113-7 against a budget amendment to force the state to reverse the policy, which supporters say ended an unfair advantage for families with illegal immigrants by not counting the earnings of members who couldn’t document that they were in the U.S. legally when calculating household incomes to determine eligibility.
And, on a voice vote, the House rejected a proposed ban on the admission of new patients for a year to the Kansas Neurological Institute, the state hospital for the developmentally disabled in Topeka. The goal was to free up money for in-home services, but some lawmakers noted that KNI cares for medically fragile patients who couldn’t be served well in community programs.
The proposed budget is House Sub for SB 294.
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org