Kansas Senate panel's approval of proposed $15.5B budget part of lawmakers' packed schedule

Economic Indicators Associated Press

A Kansas Senate committee on Thursday approved a proposed $15.5 billion budget for the state's next fiscal year that wouldn't balance out without tax increases.

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The Senate Ways and Means Committee's 9-2 vote on the spending blueprint for the fiscal year beginning July 1 sends it to the full chamber for debate. The House is considering its own budget, which also would require higher taxes.

The Senate Commerce Committee also approved a bill that would limit bargaining between state agencies and public employee unions and prevent direct deductions from teachers' and government workers paychecks for union dues. A House committee endorsed a bill that would establish a process for the state to draft a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Here is a look at Thursday's major legislative developments.

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STATE BUDGET

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The Republican-dominated Legislature and GOP Gov. Sam Brownback must close a projected budget deficit of nearly $600 million for the next fiscal year. The shortfall arose after lawmakers aggressively cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging to stimulate the economy.

The spending plan approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee would require more than $200 million in annual tax increases.

"We don't have the money to pay for it," said Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the committee's ranking Democrat.

Both chambers expect to debate their proposed budgets next week and to consider revenue-raising proposals in early May, at the end of lawmakers' annual session.

Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said lawmakers have trimmed in many areas, including transportation and general government spending. Total spending would decline slightly in the next fiscal year.

"I think we're trying to actually govern," he said.

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PUBLIC EMPLOYEE UNIONS

The bill approved by the Senate Commerce Committee would limit collective bargaining between state agencies and their workers to minimum wages.

"The theme is to try to align government to look a little more like the private sector," said Sen. Jeff Melcher, a Leawood Republican.

The measure would prevent state and local agencies and school districts from using their resources to collect dues for unions through paycheck deductions.

The bill initially would have barred only deductions for union dues, but members broadened it so that state agencies and school districts also couldn't make many other deductions — including contributions to charities such as the United Way. Committee members said it's fairer not to single out union dues.

Rebecca Proctor, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said, "It's very clear the motivation is to take away any protections workers could possibly have and to weaken public employee unions in Kansas."

Critics say such Republican-backed measures in Kansas and elsewhere are meant to undermine the political power of unions, which tend to vote Democrat.

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RENEWABLE ENERGY

The House Energy and Environment Committee approved a bill that is a response to a federal rule directing states to develop stricter greenhouse gas emission standards by June 2016.

Under the bill, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment would have the authority to develop a plan but the Legislature's energy committees would have to sign off on it.

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Nicholas Clayton also contributed to this report.

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Online:

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

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