Capital Journal on Rep. Benjamin Hodge’s 1% budget cut – “We are not being responsible with our taxpayers’ money.”

House advances budget containing pay raise
State employees would receive 1 percent increase and a $1,450 bonus,br> By Tim Carpenter
The Capital-Journal
Published Friday, March 16, 2007

The House tentatively endorsed a $12.4 billion state budget Thursday containing a salary plan for state employees and excluding proposals for broader financing of all-day kindergarten programs and health care for uninsured children.

The nine-hour debate included adoption of an amendment cutting money for a 2008 presidential primary and passage of a House-Senate compromise on the two-year, $175 million unemployment tax break for businesses and an easing of the waiting period for people to receive jobless benefits.

Final action is expected today.

Inserted into the legislation was a provision requiring broader oversight of a controversial affiliation proposal between The University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City , Kan. , and St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City , Mo.

More than two dozen amendments to adjust spending, many offered by Democrats, were defeated in the Republican-controlled House.

Perhaps the most unexpected came from freshman Rep. Benjamin Hodge, R-Overland Park, who proposed a 1 percent across-the-board cut in all state spending other than education, debt service and retirement benefits. His motion failed 18-89.

“I don’t believe that our citizens need government,” Hodge said. “I believe we’re bankrupting our children. We are not being responsible with our taxpayers’ money.”

The House budget also sets aside $271 million for two years of increases in K-12 education and $76 million for five years of state university building maintenance projects.

The Senate is working on its own version of the budget for the 2007-2008 fiscal year.

Senate and House leaders will work toward a tentative budget deal by April 4, with final action on state spending occurring when lawmakers convene April 25 for the annual omnibus wrap-up session.

House Speaker Melvin Neufeld , R-Ingalls, said the House debate resulted in a $1.1 million increase in the budget blueprint put forward by the House Appropriations Committee.

“What we’ve done is make some adjustments in priority spending on the floor today, and we’ve now funded all the basic core functions of government. What’s left for omnibus is how much we add on,” Neufeld said.

House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg, said the spending package emerging from the House left undecided hundreds of budget items.

The list includes funding for the frail elderly, community and technical colleges, health care initiatives and disaster relief for western Kansas .

“The budget should reflect your values,” he said. “I guess we’ve decided it’s OK to pass tax cuts for some of the wealthiest corporations before we fund waiting lists for people with disabilities, before we address critical health insurance issues. That’s what’s disappointing here, because I don’t think that reflects the values most Kansans have.”

Under the salary plan accepted by the House, 41,000 workers on the state payroll would get a 1 percent raise and one-time $1,450 bonus in the upcoming fiscal year. Workers with salaries at least 25 percent below market rates would qualify for an additional 5 percent pay hike.

Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius recommended a 4 percent increase for state workers.

Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, unsuccessfully moved to send the House salary package back to the committee for more hearings. A subsequent proposal from Mah to require bonus payments to be counted toward the calculation of retirement benefits was defeated.

“I have not heard one positive comment from state employees when details of this plan were released,” Mah said.

The House shot down an amendment to expand state funding for all-day kindergarten programs in public schools, which had been proposed by Sebelius.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, also failed to gain sufficient votes for an amendment allocating $4 million to bring an estimated 2,000 children from infant to 5 years of age into a health care insurance program. The governor has been an advocate for expansion of this health care initiative.

“Some people attacking this did favor a presidential primary,” Mc-Kinney said.

The House voted to strip $2 million for the state’s share of the cost of a presidential primary, which promised to feature Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. He is a candidate for the GOP nomination.

Members of the House agreed to require an affiliation agreement between the KU Medical Center and St. Luke’s to undergo review by the Kansas Board of Regents, the KU Hospital board and the Wichita Center for Graduate Medical Education.

The amendment removed, for now, a threat to withhold $116 million in state funding to KUMC pending completion of affiliation negotiations.

“The Board of Regents needs to accept their responsibility not to do anything to harm medical education for the state of Kansas ,” said Neufeld, the House’s GOP leader.

In the middle of debate about the budget, the House agreed 123-0 on a compromise with the Senate to move ahead with reductions in business unemployment taxes and easing of the wait for some jobless Kansans to receive unemployment checks. The Senate voted 40-0 for the deal.

That was followed by a proposal by Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, to cut $2.2 million from state funding of public radio and television in Kansas . He wanted to use the money for elderly programs.

“The money in public broadcasting is sort of for the artsy crowd,” he said before it was defeated 40-70.

Tim Carpenter can be reached at (785) 296-3005 or