Unions unhappy with state spending cuts

Union leaders for Kansas public school district teachers and state government employees expressed displeasure with the revised budget road map drawn by Gov. Sam Brownback.


Brownback responded to gridlock between House and Senate negotiators Friday by imposing an immediate remedy to a budget shortfall. He outlined $56.5 million in emergency cuts to guarantee the government ends the fiscal year in June without a deficit.

The Republican governor in his second month in office withdrew $50.2 million in aid previously earmarked for K-12 schools across the state and pulled back $1.3 million promised underpaid state employees making wages far below the private sector in comparable jobs.

Blake West, president of the Kansas-National Education Association, made reference to Brownback's campaign platform, "Roadmap for Kansas," when pointing to damage caused by this late-year reduction. One element of the governor's platform was to raise reading skills of fourth-graders.

"It seems Governor Brownback's 'Roadmap for Education' is an unpaved path taking our students back to the 19th century," West said.

West said the Legislature's stalemate could have been resolved without the governor's intervention had the House seriously considered a Senate plan to raise state aid for special education to secure millions of dollars in federal funding for those needy students.

"That refusal, and this governor’s lack of commitment to education, brought us to this point," the union's president said. "Making public schools great for every child is not on this governor’s agenda.”

The House's view on the impasse was that alternatives existed to pumping $21 million into special education to retain federal aid for students. Movement on that issue, for House leaders, was contingent on deeper cuts in overall K-12 spending in the next fiscal year.

Brownback's remedy to the budget crisis included elimination of $1.3 million scheduled to be paid to thousands of state employees during the next three months. These workers had received special raises in July because studies showed they were paid far less than contemporaries in the private sector.

"This move is clearly an assault on state employees and an indication that our budget shortfalls will be passed off on to the public servants in the state," said Jane Carter, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees.

In practical terms, she said, the corrections officers, administrative assistants and other public employees who had market adjustments added to paychecks last summer would have their salaries reduced for the remainder of the fiscal year. Compensation for other state employees would be unchanged.

Carter said a report released in February indicated Kansas had the 49th largest gap between pay and benefits for private and public sector workers. Evaluation of statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed Kansas public employees were paid $3,300 below peers in similar nongovernment jobs.

"The budget deficit was not created from the excessive wages of public employees," Carter said. "State employees should not be speed bumps on Governor Brownback's so-called Kansas Roadmap."

Brownback ordered the budget adjustments following weeks of negotiations between House and Senate members on a possible fix for a projected shortfall in the budget ending in June. His actions — at least on paper — move the state government's budget to a zero balance. He doesn't have constitutional authority to cut deeper to produce a positive balance heading into the state's next fiscal year.

The governor had warned legislative leaders he would take action at the end of business Friday if the two sides failed to secure a compromise version of conflicting budgets adopted by each body last month. Negotiations collapsed with House and Senate leaders blaming the other chamber for disintegration of talks.

"I thought we had a shot at getting it through the legislative process, which is the preferred way," Brownback said. "It is necessary for us to do allotments."

Nearly all the $50 million trimmed from public school districts would be used to pay for the state's escalating health and human services caseloads, but that step requires approval of the Legislature.

In addition to education and salary reductions, the governor pulled $2.3 million from a managed care health plan at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and $2.3 million from the higher education system administered by the Kansas Board of Regents.

“I look forward to working with the Kansas Legislature to building a fiscal year 2012 budget that gets our state back on the road of fiscal responsibility and stability," Brownback said.

The projected deficit in the upcoming fiscal year is likely to hover around $500 million.

The Kansas Constitution requires a balanced budget at the conclusion of each fiscal year.