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Even legislators aren’t entirely sure what went into the state budget

By Bill Felber

The 2013 Kansas Legislative session ended a week ago. If you’re still trying to figure out precisely what it was that lawmakers did — well, you’re in good company. Even some lawmakers have spent the past few days filling in the blanks.

“We were given the budget three hours before we had to voted on it,” State Rep. Tom Phillips, a Manhattan Republican, told an audience at the Seniors Center Friday afternoon. Given the size of the budget document, Phillips conceded it was impossible for legislators not already party to the details of the compromise measure to do anything more than scan it.

“Those kinds of things I get disgusted at,” said Phillips, who still voted for the deal, which among other things lessened a proposed reduction in the state sales tax.

State Rep. Sydney Carlin, a Manhattan Democrat, blamed rules changes imposed this year by new legislative leadership for many of the problems. In the past, Carlin said, conference committees trying to cobble together session-ending deals had been required to choose from among proposals passed by either the House or Senate. “The law says that,” she said. But this year, conferees “just pushed the limit,” throwing in — by Carlin’s count — “35 or 40” new measures irrespective of whether either legislative chamber had previously even considered, much less approved, them. “I still don’t know” all the details of what was in some of the measures approved at session’s end, said Carlin, who is a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Local lawmakers said many legislators left Topeka uncertain about final details such as the total amount of spending cuts to Kansas Board of Regents institutions. “There will be a lot of legislators surprised when they get back home,” and see the extent of those reductions, Phillips cautioned.

Such uncertainties appeared to pop up in numerous areas, among them bills designed to funds programs for the developmentally disabled. Sen. Tom Hawk said his understanding was that the budget was to have included a provision prohibiting state agencies serving that clientele from putting some on a waiting list, a step that Hawk said he would have viewed as constructive given the extent of the clients’ needs. He said some had been on such lists for as long as six years. Only subsequent to the vote, he said, did he find out that provisos inserted late in the discussion on the House side had significantly weakened that prohibition. “That bothers me,” he said.

Phillips, for one, is bracing for additional surprises as the budget details slowly surfaced. “I’m sure there are surprises we won’t be happy about,” he said.

Carlin and Hawk, both of whom opposed the final budget, said they were particularly disturbed by the sales tax deal. Carlin said a food sales tax rebate designed to offset the impact of tax changes on the poor was constructed in such a way that “very, very few will collect anything from it.” Among the conditions: The $175 exemption only applies to those making less than $30,600 per year and only if they itemize their taxes. She also expressed alarm about $5.6 million in reductions to public safety programs, which she warned will cause a “lack of supervision for parolees.”

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