DALLAS - The struggle to balance the Kansas state budget for fiscal 2009 will continue despite the departure of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to become President Obama's health secretary.
Sebelius was introduced by President Obama as his nominee for the Department of Health and Human Services post at a news conference yesterday. If she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Lieut. Gov. Mark Parkinson will replace Sebelius.
Parkinson is a former Republican legislator and head of the Kansas Republican Party who changed parties in 2006 to run on the ticket with Sebelius as a Democrat. During the campaign, he said he would not run for governor in 2010.
Parkinson said he supports the budget revisions Sebelius sent to the Legislature late last week. The amended executive proposal for the fiscal 2010 budget uses money from the federal stimulus package to avoid significant cuts to state education and health services.
Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said Kansas Republicans are wary of using federal stimulus dollars to balance the budget.
The governor's decision to leave for Washington has disrupted an already difficult legislative session, Schmidt said. The Legislature has only two months to approve a budget, he noted in urging quick action by the Senate on Sebelius's nomination.
"The state budget remains substantially out of balance, and she will leave behind no consensus on how to balance it," he said. "Kansas needs the Senate to act quickly on the Sebelius nomination so the transition of governors can occur and the critical work of reshaping state government to live within its means for years to come can proceed during the remaining few weeks of this legislative session."
The Legislature is scheduled to recess its 2009 session on April 8.
Schmidt said he was certain that Parkinson will work with both parties to "build a broad, bipartisan consensus on a balanced budget."
GOP leaders have suggested an across-the-board 10% reduction in agency budgets for fiscal 2010 to eliminate a revenue shortfall estimated at $654 million. Sebelius said her original budget cut $600 million in spending, and the latest revisions are required to obtain the most from the stimulus package.
"With these amendments, the 2010 budget is balanced, ends with money in the bank, and does not raise taxes," she said. "Budget cuts deeper than what I have already recommended are not necessary, and would in fact do great harm to our state's economy and employment levels."
If the revisions are not enacted, Sebelius said, the state will be barred from receiving almost $985 million in stimulus funds.
The governor's revisions maintain state funding for public schools at fiscal 2009 levels and restore higher education funding to that in fiscal 2008. This would allow the state to access $367 million in federal funds.
Preventing cuts to special education programs will allow access to $107 million in stimulus money. Maintaining eligibility standards for Medicaid will provide $430 million, Sebelius said.
The governor recommended a change in unemployment insurance that is necessary to bring $68 million into the state's unemployment trust fund.