- Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Republican leaders expect two Kansas legislative committees to approve plans next week for closing a projected $190 million deficit in the state’s next budget by using Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposals for juggling funds and capturing unanticipated savings as a starting point.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said the goal is for the Republican-dominated Legislature to finish work on a budget-balancing plan by the end of February. He and other GOP leaders said closing the budget shortfall quickly will allow lawmakers to focus on finding and fixing long-term inefficiencies in state government.

But legislators in both parties worry that budget work will be complicated by month-to-month revenue shortfalls. For 2014 and 2015, tax collections fell short of expectations for 17 of the 24 months; officials will learn Monday how the state fared in January.

Both the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the House Appropriations Committee plan to vote next week on budget-balancing proposals.

“The first part of our work is to clean up the budget,” said the House committee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., of Olathe. “The majority of our work this year, out of the budget committees and Appropriations, will be looking at ways to make government run more efficiently and better.”

The state has struggled to balance the budget since Republican legislators slashed personal income taxes at Brownback’s urging in 2012 and 2013 in an effort to stimulate the economy. Most of those reductions have been preserved, but GOP lawmakers last year raised sales and cigarette taxes.

Brownback’s proposals for closing the projected gap in the $16.1 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 include booking savings for the state from an increase in federal funds for children’s health coverage and lower-than-anticipated costs for teacher pension contributions. He wants to divert highway funds to general government programs and sell off the assets of a state economic development agency.

The governor has ruled out additional tax increases this year and his proposals are designed to keep the state from cutting aid to public schools, the biggest item in the annual budget.

Republican leaders argue that the work can move quickly because lawmakers are only revising a spending blueprint for state government approved last year. Bruce, a Nickerson Republican, said a fix “isn’t terribly complicated.”

“Not a whole lot of moving pieces - that’s kind of how everybody’s viewed it,” Bruce said.

But Rep. Jerry Henry, of Atchison, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said Brownback’s proposals aren’t going to get enough scrutiny.

“We’re going to have no time,” he said.

Henry also predicted that any plan legislators pass quickly to balance the budget is likely to be undone by lower-than-expected monthly tax collections. Republicans acknowledge the possibility.

Meanwhile, top Republicans said they want to dig into recommendations from a Kansas City-area consulting firm hired by legislative leaders to find inefficient state government spending. Alvarez & Marsal issued a preliminary report recently that includes dozens of proposals that it said could save $2 billion over six years.

The proposals include consolidating local Kansas Department of Transportation offices and leasing small plots of state-owned land for cell-phone towers. It also included larger initiatives, such as moving all state employees into high-deductible health insurance plans.

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: https://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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