Sunday, June 16, 2013

Brownback signs two-year budget, with exceptions

The Lawrence Journal-World

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback on Saturday showed his frustration with part of the state budget passed by the GOP-dominated Kansas Legislature by vetoing the entire Department of Corrections allotment for fiscal year 2015.

Brownback signed the bill containing a budget of more than $14 billion for each of the next two fiscal years, starting in July.

Although the governor used his power to veto multiple line items, most of the decisions made by lawmakers about spending will take effect.

He let stand cuts in higher educating spending, even though he’d opposed any reduction in state funding and went on statewide tour in April and May to build opposition to the idea. In a message to legislators, he called on them to work with the state Board of Regents to “craft a shared vision for higher education.”

Corrections department officials have worried that they’ll have to trim spending on community programs and lay off parole officers.

The governor vetoed several line items that together trimmed almost $3 million in spending from the agency’s budget for the fiscal year 2014, which begins in July, and Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts said those actions “make the state safer.”

Brownback’s decision to veto the Department of Corrections’ budget for fiscal year 2015 — which contained more than $9 million in cuts — is mostly symbolic, because legislators will have an opportunity to draft another version next year. He approved most of the prison system’s budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins in July.

“The Department of Corrections plays a key role in maintaining our state’s public safety,” Brownback said. “Because I consider it inadequate, I veto the FY 2015 budget and look forward to working with the 2014 Legislature in finding the Department sufficient resources to ensure public safety is not imperiled.”

Brownback and Republican legislators made a point of fashioning two years’ worth of spending, saying it would promote stability and allow for greater planning. They also said it would open up time every other year to deeply examine some spending issues.

The overall budget would total $14.5 billion for fiscal year 2014, and about $14.2 billion for fiscal 2015, though the latter figure would include a revised budget for the Department of Corrections.

In a statement, House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, said he is “disappointed” by the governor’s decision to alter the budget approved by lawmakers.

“At the same time, we will continue to work with him and the Senate to address current concerns while examining ways to make state government more efficient,” he said.

Aside from a short, formal adjournment ceremony on Thursday, legislators have finished for the year. They still have an opportunity to override Brownback’s veto with a two-thirds majority, but such an effort doesn’t appear likely.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley criticized Brownback for “the most irresponsible budget in years.” Democrats contend Brownback and other Republicans want to hold down spending to phase out personal income taxes. Lawmakers approved cuts in income tax rates this year and last year.

“Sam Brownback has signed a budget that will result in cutting jobs essential to our state institutions, raising tuition on our students and jeopardizing the public safety of our citizens,” Hensley said.

Brownback also vetoed two budget items that Attorney General Derek Schmidt, another Republican, had urged him to strike. One would have diverted $600,000 from licensing fees for concealed carry permits to fund general government programs and the other would have placed a salary cap on state agencies, including the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

On higher education, Brownback had limited options because the cuts weren’t separated from the budgets for the Board of Regents and state universities. Legislators cut spending on public universities by 1.5 percent each of the next two years; community and technical colleges will have their spending cut 1.5 percent in fiscal 2015.

But some regents have said the cuts are deeper than they appear because lawmakers also reduced the state funds available for salaries. Brownback said legislators need to work with the regents, who oversee the higher education system, to maintain “our high standard of excellence” while using state dollars efficiently.