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Kansas Lawmakers Approve Extra Funds for Higher Ed, Pay Raises for State Workers

Kansas Statehouse (Photo by J. Schafer)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators on Thursday approved pay raises for state workers, setting aside money for school security upgrades and reversing past spending cuts on state university campuses.  But top Republicans also pursued income tax cuts that could endanger their ability to sustain the extra spending and an increase in funding for public schools approved last month in hopes of satisfying a Kansas Supreme Court mandate.

The Senate approved, 21-19, a bill early Friday that would cut income taxes by roughly $80 million during the state's next fiscal year, which begins in July. The bill is a response to changes in federal income tax laws late last year that would otherwise have some individuals and businesses paying more to the state.  Republican leaders hoped the House would vote on the tax bill later Friday to determine whether the measure goes to GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer.

Debate on the tax bill came after the House and Senate approved a bill Thursday that would add millions of new dollars to the budgets approved by lawmakers last year for the state's current fiscal year and the next fiscal year beginning in July. The current budget would top $16.3 billion, and the one for the next fiscal year would be nearly $16.8 billion in total spending.  The votes were 98-23 in the House and 26-14 in the Senate. The measure goes next to Colyer, who is all but certain to sign it but has the power to veto individual spending items.

The measure had bipartisan support because many legislators believed the extra spending addressed areas of state government that had been neglected in previous years. The state experienced persistent budget problems after lawmakers slashed income taxes in 2012 and 2013, and legislators reversed most of the past cuts last year.  "I think we came up with a very good and fair budget," said state Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, of Kansas City, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Some conservative Republicans, particularly in the Senate, argued that the extra spending was too much.  "Where's the fiscal conservative stances everyone talks about when they're back home?" said Sen. Rob Olson, a conservative Olathe Republican. "They're not in this budget Even as the Republican-controlled Legislature approved the spending increases, its GOP leaders argued that the state should cut taxes because it is receiving an unanticipated "windfall" because of the federal tax changes.

Projections this week from the Legislature's research staff suggested that the state can't sustain all the new spending and cut taxes without causing budget shortfalls as early as next year. But the state's economy has improved, and tax collections have exceeded expectations for 11 consecutive months, with a $66 million surplus in April alone.
The budget bill provides an additional $15 million to state universities to help them recover from cuts in their operation budgets in 2016. A majority of the cuts, but not all of them, would be restored.

State workers would get at least a 2.5 percent pay raise. Uniformed corrections officers and employees who did not get a raise last year would receive 5 percent.  The bill also includes $5 million for grants for security upgrades at public schools. It was part a safety plan House GOP leaders drafted following a deadly mass shooting in February at a Florida high school.

Legislators last month approved phasing in a $534 million increase in aid to the state's 286 school districts over five years. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's current education funding of more than $4 billion a year is not sufficient under the state constitution.

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