Capital Journal – Conservatives derail House budget bill

Conservatives derail House budget bill
By James Carlson
The Capital-Journal
Published Saturday, April 28, 2007

Worried about state spending, a rogue group of conservative House Republicans on Friday broke from the ranks and helped defeat a $308 million appropriations bill.

The move delays the finalization of the budget process and the end of the 2007 Legislature, which continues today. The proposal included all money items not included in the $12.3 billion budget passed earlier this month.

“This budget does not restrain spending this year and guarantees an unprecedented budget crisis for the next few years,” read the vote explanation, signed by 27 representatives.

The 71-53 vote against the measure came one day after the House had given tentative approval to the budget. The Senate passed its $350 million version Thursday.

Without a budget, the House won’t meet with the Senate to work out any differences between the two plans. The budget can be reconsidered today, but it can’t be amended, which puts those 27 members in a bind. Vote for the exact bill you just opposed or further delay your time in the Statehouse.

So what could change between Friday and today?

“Time,” said Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, the appropriations committee chairwoman. “I think there is a push to go home.”

Friday was the third day of the Legislature’s wrap-up session.

In an unusual move, Majority Leader Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, voted against Speaker Melvin Neufeld , R-Ingalls, and other Republican leaders. In all, only 36 of the 72 GOP members voted for the budget.

“That says that the House leadership on this bill wasn’t unified,” Neufeld said.

The “no” votes weren’t confined to those opposed to increased state spending. Many holdouts wanted a House plan for deferred maintenance at state universities before voting for a budget, but the bill for school repairs failed in the afternoon and kept the appropriations measure from resurrecting.

Another group of legislators were opposed to the proposal because of a provision eliminating funding for three state agencies unless they provide more detailed reporting about late-term abortions and abortion providers.

But it was those opposed to the state’s spending that sank the budget ship.

” Kansas does not have a budget crisis,” Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Bel Aire, said during an afternoon news conference. ” Kansas has a spending crisis.”

Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg, balked at that idea, saying almost no one brought amendments to cut funding. His idea of budget responsibility differs anyway, he said.

“What is fiscal responsibility?” McKinney asked. “Long-range responsibility sometimes means investing in the right places now to avoid problems later.”

Passage of the final budget bill will push total spending to between $12.5 billion and $12.6 billion, which includes state money and federal funds. Fiscal conservatives have consistently stated they want to trim the state’s $6 billion portion.

The House is now left to the weekend to try to wrap up two of the biggest items: the budget and deferred maintenance for state universities.

Across the Statehouse, the Senate completed its work Friday night and will wait for the House to finish before beginning the conference committee process.

James Carlson can be reached at (785) 233-7470 or