A column from House Minority Leader Paul Davis:
The passage of the federal American Recovery Act (widely known as the "stimulus" act) is great news for Kansas. It has provided the opportunity to receive hundreds of millions of federal dollars to help fill the looming budget gap in the next fiscal year. Since we face a close to $1 billion shortfall and the highest unemployment rate in 25 years, this will be tremendously helpful in spurring job growth and helping to protect our strategic investments in K-12 and higher education. Governor Sebelius has made recommendations for the utilization of this money, but the Kansas Legislature is dragging its feet once again.
Throughout the last few weeks, a number of legislative budget committees in the House of Representatives have been sifting through the components of the federal stimulus bill. Unfortunately, they have largely rejected utilizing these federal dollars.
First, money for our universities, community colleges and technical colleges was rejected. This money would have gone toward holding off projected tuition increases and the creation of jobs through repairing crumbling buildings on our campuses. Currently, there are over $700 million in deferred maintenance projects at our higher education institutions awaiting repair.
In addition, the House Appropriations Committee voted not to accept the Governor's recommendation to take advantage of the recent federal reauthorization of SCHIP, a program that would have provided health insurance for 8,000 additional children. This decision was particularly troubling, as most of the Legislature last year voted to fund this program if new federal dollars were doled out to the states. Now that it has been federally authorized, many legislators choose to go back on their vote, leaving thousands of children without insurance coverage. If we do not utilize these federal dollars for children's health insurance, they cannot be allocated elsewhere in the Kansas budget and will be forfeited to other states.
Now, Republicans on the Appropriations Committee are once more attempting to cut K-12 education, this time beyond a level that will allow us to receive federal funding from the American Recovery Act. The federal guidelines for receiving K-12 stimulus money are clear: we must not cut below the 2008 level. To make any cuts exceeding this level will seriously jeopardize our opportunity to receive the financial help. It will force school districts across the state to cut programs, lay off teachers and will dramatically decrease the quality of our children's education.
Of course this aid is not the final solution. We must still scale back and make cuts, and every expense in the state budget must be expected to share in the sacrifice. But this is money that can serve as our lifeboat in a budget year that will otherwise sink us. The American Recovery Act cannot help us recover from this economic recession unless those dollars are pumped back into the economy. With only two weeks left to get something done this session, it is time to put politics aside and do what we were hired by Kansans to do.
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