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Legislative update

Many cuts on the way — including salaries

Rep., District 70

By week’s end, we ought to have created a budget to send to Gov. Brownback for his consideration. You may recall we did not distribute a budget last year until the veto session, and that could happen again. Brownback worked hard from the time of his election to mid-January laying out his budget proposal. His proposal would leave a $7.5 million ending balance and requires cutting more than $500 million from the budget, which is the hole we’re in. If he doesn’t cut that much, we’d have to raise taxes to fill that hole. Gov. Brownback does not substantially cut the judicial branch in his proposal, believing it already pared down its budget all it could.

Since Brownback proposed his budget, he has had to announce a round of allotments, allocating the state’s money resources to get us through this fiscal year, which, with minor legislative action, meets our constitutional mandate to operate on a balanced budget.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee has crafted its budget proposal and it appears to be similar to the Governor’s budget with some significant alterations, and leaves a razor-thin balance of $2.4 million. It cuts wages for employees and department heads who earn more than $100,000, but does not cut “rank and file” employees. That proposal is likely to be debated on the floor of the Senate midweek.

The House version is now complete; our Appropriations Committee cut more than $50 million more than the Governor cut; that’s severe when you consider the budget is already being cut by more than $500 million, and that we had cut more than $1.2 billion during my first two years in office. About $40 million of these new cuts would be on the backs of all state workers who earn $40,000 or more — from department of transportation workers to court employees — except the bill exempts employees of the legislative branch. I think the cut is 7.5 percent of wages.

Enacting the House position could easily extend the recession and cause another round of defaults and foreclosures, and won’t help us “grow out” of the recession, as the Governor would like to do. We expect to debate the budget proposed by the House Appropriations Committee on the floor of the House today or Thursday.

Another concern with the Appropriation Committee’s proposed wage cuts is the extra cuts on top of the Governor’s allotments and his $500 million in other cuts. The Governor has thought out his cuts, cutting what he believes he must without harming essential governmental functions; however, not the House.

The House proposal will slice about $6.5 million from the court budget, nearly all wages. With about 95 percent of the court budget being salaries, this House proposal may cripple a vital branch of the Kansas government. You know, I’m an attorney, and you’re not likely surprised about my concern. I know these cuts to the judicial system could harm our constitutional rights as well as the need to protect our community. Part of our American system is the assurance of timely justice, and the right to be heard in a court of law, which will be impacted by the cuts, and keep in mind these cuts will surely cause layoffs of officers who supervise probationers.

They also monitor people who are trying to straighten out their lives; and with fewer of them, fewer will be successful and more will likely re-offend. Did members of the Appropriations Committee think through the impact of their actions when proposing these wage cuts? I hope not. I would prefer to think of this as a mindless over-reaction rather than a deliberate design to harm our state workers, and particularly Kansas’ judicial branch. Never mind that Kansas’ workers as a whole rank 49th in state pay before these proposed 7.5 percent cuts and a proposed 5 percent health insurance surcharge.

This budget issue is further complicated by the House’s new “Pay-Go” rule, which limits state spending to an amount selected by a majority of the Appropriations Committee. Thirteen members of the 125-person House now control what the upper limit of the House budget proposal will look like.

Let’s end on a better note. In my Feb. 2 column, I talked about Rural Opportunity Zones. You may have read this past week in the newspaper that the ROZ (folks pronounce it “rose”) bill passed both the House and the Senate, and is on its way to the Governor for his signature. The plan names Marion County as one of the ROZ counties. We ought to celebrate this wonderful opportunity and seize the moment. Carpe diem.

Please contact me at Brookens70@sbcglobal.net or write me at Kansas State Capitol Building, 300 SW 10th St, Topeka KS 66612; or call (620) 382-2133 or my Topeka number during the session, through about May 10, (785) 296-7636.

Last modified March 30, 2011

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