Archive for Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Senate Republicans deliver budget bill, ask for State Finance Council meeting

Sebelius hammers Republicans over government funding

February 17, 2009, 11:01 a.m.

Updated: February 17, 2009, 1:05 p.m.

— An unprecedented state government showdown that has delayed income tax refunds and could jeopardize state employee paychecks continued to rage on Tuesday.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement to state employees that their checks due Friday were in jeopardy because Republican legislative leaders refused to approve a fund transfer that has become routine over the past decade.

But moments after that message went out, Senate Republican leaders said they wanted to “address the state’s budget needs” in a meeting of the State Finance Council, which is chaired by Sebelius.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, urged Sebelius to call the Finance Council into session “so that taxpayers can get their refunds and state employees can be paid on time.”

There was no immediate word from Sebelius’ office on whether she would convene a meeting.

It was in preparation for Monday’s scheduled meeting of the State Finance Council that the financial dispute erupted.

Republicans demanded that Sebelius sign a budget-cutting bill into law before they would agree to issue $225 million in certificates of indebtedness, which would be used for cash-flow purposes to pay employees, Medicaid services, income tax refunds, school finance and other debts.

But Sebelius didn’t even have the budget bill yet. She and other Democrats said the cash-flow problem was separate from the state’s budget problems and shouldn’t be used to force her to sign budget cuts that she didn’t want.

“I can’t imagine that the Republican majority intends to shut down state government in a fit of pique, but you know you can’t tell,” Sebelius said.

On Tuesday, legislative leaders said the budget bill was sent to Sebelius at noon.

The Republicans said it would have been illegal to issue the certificates of indebtedness because the money won’t be available at the end of the fiscal year to cover them. But Democrats said that was simply not the case and that Sebelius’ budget director was ready to certify that the books would balance at the end of the fiscal year.

Officials at Kansas University, one of the single largest state employee sites, are monitoring the situation and keeping in contact with legislators and the state budget office, said KU spokeswoman Lynn Bretz. She said the university had addressed some calls and e-mails this morning, but did not want to fuel speculation about what would happen if state lawmakers fail to reach consensus.

"We have confidence that the governor and the Legislature will resolve it," she said.

Kansas’ 295 school districts are supposed to receive $185 million in payments at the end of the month.

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