Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Panel OKs Budget Changes ; KPERS, KU Targets; Children's Initiative Fund Intact

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Panel OKs Budget Changes ; KPERS, KU Targets; Children's Initiative Fund Intact

Article excerpt

The Children's Initiative Fund would retain its current structure, a rebuff of a proposal from Gov. Sam Brownback, but the governor would be able to delay pension payments to keep the state budget afloat under legislation approved Monday by the Senate's budget committee.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee voted 9-2 to send the budget adjustments to the full Senate. Lawmakers need to either reduce spending or boost revenue by more than $175 million to balance the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The legislation also would restrict the University of Kansas from using public money to help finance construction projects. Lawmakers also added additional funding for struggling Osawatomie State Hospital, which lost federal certification last fall and with it up to $1 million a month in federal funds.

With the committee's approval of the budget changes, similar but separate budget proposals now await action in both the House and Senate. Debates could be held as early as this week.

Lawmakers easily nixed a proposal from Brownback that would have moved the Children's Initiative Fund, about $50 million, into the state general fund. The fund helps pay for a variety of children's programs focused on early education, mental health and child welfare. Funds for the CIF come from tobacco settlement money.

The administration has said the change would offer the fund greater accountability. Under the bill as passed by the committee, the CIF will remain its own, distinct fund controlled by the Kansas Children's Cabinet.

The committee's chairman, Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, acknowledged some had feared for the future of the CIF and indicated not moving forward on the proposal would hopefully allay those concerns.

"This is not unlike letting my little girl sleep in my bedroom even though I know there's not monsters in her closet," Masterson said.

In a move more favorable to the governor, the committee approved a change that would allow Brownback to delay payments to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. The withheld payments would have to be paid back over 24 months at an 8 percent interest rate.

Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, put forward the idea. He said the move would give the state a boost of "working capital." But some lawmakers, such as Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, wondered what guarantees would be in place to ensure the repayments are made. Theoretically, lawmakers could simply waive the requirements in the future.

"To the extent anything in statute is a guarantee, yes, it would be guaranteed," Masterson said.

Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood, appeared skeptical. He questioned whether the state will face the same financial challenges it does today when it comes time to pay up later. …

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