- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas averted a partial government shutdown Saturday after legislators voted unanimously to keep thousands of state workers on the job next week, even though budget and tax issues haven’t been resolved.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill from the GOP-dominated Legislature, and the new law took effect Saturday night. But Brownback also admonished lawmakers to approve a plan for raising taxes to balance the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, less than a month away.

“It is past time for the Legislature to act,” Brownback said in a statement issued before he signed the bill.

The votes of 39-0 in the Senate and 106-0 in the House were only hours apart. Senators acted minutes after members overwhelmingly rejected another plan for raising taxes.

Without a budget for the next fiscal year, the state has no legal authority to pay employees for work after Saturday. Employees’ compensation lags several weeks behind their work, so their pay for the two-week period beginning Sunday won’t be distributed until early July.

The bill approved by lawmakers declares all state employees essential for the next few weeks so that they can at least stay on the job. They would get paid on time if a budget is in place at the start of the new fiscal year.

“It’s kind of the prettiest baby in the ugliest baby contest,” said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican. “It’s probably not the best way to do it because, quite frankly, it doesn’t authorize payment, but it does allow them to work.”

Masterson and other top Senate Republicans had considered pushing for a bill financing all of state government for an additional two weeks, viewing the bill declaring all employees essential as only a “feel-good” measure. But lawmakers had to do something by midnight Saturday to head off furloughs.

The House earlier this week approved a proposed $15.5 billion budget for the next fiscal year that would leave the state with a $406 million shortfall, but GOP lawmakers are sharply divided over raising taxes to fill the rest of the gap. Unlike the federal government, the state is required to pass budgets without deficits.

Saturday was the 107th day of lawmakers’ annual session, tying it with the 2002 session as the longest ever. Legislative leaders typically schedule sessions to last 90 days, and each extra day this year has cost the state a total of more than $40,000.

Legislators also have never waited as late in the year to wrap up their work on the next state budget.

Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican whose district is home to many state workers, said she is insulted that they would “be used as pawns” in the impasse over budget and tax issues.

“We should not risk the livelihoods of our state employees because we couldn’t come to a consensus,” she said in explaining her vote for the anti-furlough bill.

State agencies and universities sent furlough notices Friday to at least 24,200 employees. But public school employees or judicial branch workers weren’t included because budgets for those agencies have already been signed into law.

The percentage of workers receiving furlough notices varied by agency. Department of Administration spokesman John Milburn said it averaged about 40 percent for the agencies under Brownback’s direct control, though the Department of Transportation reported notifying about 75 percent of its workers.

Kansas’ largest state employees union had promised to file a legal challenge if furloughs were enacted.

Normally, furloughs are negotiated with state employee unions with 30 days’ notice given to workers before they go into effect, said Rebecca Proctor, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees. The administration has said the notification requirements can be waived because the current situation meets the criteria of an emergency, which Proctor called “ridiculous.”

“I don’t see how anyone in good conscience can argue that this is an emergency,” Proctor said, arguing that legislators could have addressed the budget situation sooner.

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Online:

Bill for averting furloughs: http://bit.ly/1QetaIj

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Follow Nicholas Clayton on Twitter at https://twitter.com@ClaytonNicholas and John Hanna at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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