Archive for Thursday, February 24, 2005

Paying for schools may shut out state workers

Democrats in Legislature say Republican plans for education funding could mean no pay raise for state employees

February 24, 2005

— State employees may be the ones left behind in Republican school finance plans, Democrats said last week.

Republicans, who hold the majority in the Legislature, have laid out plans that would provide school funding increases from $65 million to $415 million.

But they haven't proposed any new revenue sources to support those plans.

So the question becomes the source of the money.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said she didn't want to sound alarms, but that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' proposed budget had only a few enhancements, including a 2.5 percent pay raise for the state's classified employees.

"It forces you to look at taking money from existing programs," Ballard said, noting that could mean cutting the proposed pay raise.

She said state employees concerned about the chances of getting a pay raise should contact their legislators now.

The chief House budget writer, Rep. Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said all budget options were being considered except a tax increase.

"Everything is on the table," Neufeld said, though he said he thought some cuts could be made in the state budget, too.

Neufeld said it would not be possible to pass a tax increase.

In the August Republican Party primary and in the November general election, a handful of lawmakers who had earlier supported a tax increase were defeated, Neufeld said.

Lawmakers are wrangling over whether to increase taxes for schools in the face of a Kansas Supreme Court order to fix school finance by April 12. The court said schools were underfunded and cited problems in funding disadvantaged students.

In a speech to the Kansas Association of School Boards, Sebelius called on lawmakers to put together a long-term solution to school funding without borrowing or using budget tricks.

"Jeopardizing the future of thousands of children just to ease the political burden on 165 legislators is simply wrong," Sebelius said.

Earlier, Sebelius' Budget Director Duane Goossen said the Republican school finance plans would break the budget and probably hurt the state's credit rating because they lack new sources of revenue.

"New revenue" is usually Statehouse code for a tax increase, or in this legislative session, new state funding from proposed expansions in gambling.

Authors of the Republican school finance plans have said their proposals could initially be funded within existing revenue collections and projected growth in tax collections.

But in future years, there must be revenue above that amount, Goossen said in a briefing to the House Democratic caucus.

He said commitments made by the Legislature to fund highways, the state pension system and growing health care costs for the elderly and indigent have eaten up any growth in tax collections.

By July 1, 2007, one school plan would put the state budget $670 million in the hole, he said.

He added that without a plan to match spending and tax collections, the state's credit rating could be jeopardized under the school finance proposals.

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