TOPEKA- The state legislature reconvenes in Topeka with a lengthy list of issues, including filling a $510 million budget shortfall.
Republican leaders in the Senate and Governor Mark Parkinson are supporting revenue enhancements - including a 1 percent sales tax increase and an increase in tobacco and cigarette taxes- to fill the gap. The proposal would spare education and social services from additional cuts.
But the plan has received criticism from some members of the House, including House Speaker Mike O’Neal of Hutchinson who cites a recent study by a University of Kansas professor that shows that raising the state’s sales tax would be detrimental to jobs.
Parkinson has repeatedly defended his proposal, saying additional cuts to state services and education would cause irreparable harm to services and people.
The proposal being supported by many in the House looks much different. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder (R-Overland Park) said he believes  there is more room to cut and that the state can balance the budget without raising taxes. The Appropriations Committee’s bill would not replace $172 million in expiring federal stimulus funding for the state’s elementary and secondary schools but would allow school districts the freedom to replace those lost funds with local support. Budget analysts are also considering some more unconventional moves, such as selling state office building or other assets to the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System and leading them back from the fund. The House proposal also assumes the U.S. Congress will pass a bill that extends federal Medicare benefits for states that also were originally provided through the 2009 stimulus bills. Currently, the federal government is covering 70 percent, instead of the normal 60 percent, of the state’s Medicare costs. The bill is set to expire Jan. 1.
“We would be remiss if we raised taxes in Kansas or cut education when there is a potential for federal assistance,” Yoder said. “We will continue to assume its passage.”
McPherson and school districts across the state are carefully watching Topeka as much of their funding comes from the state. If the House plan is approved, districts would be forced to find ways to make up the newly realized funding shortfalls. For many districts, that could mean big problems.
McPherson district Superintendent Dr. Randy Watson said some of the proposals being floated in Topeka could mean disaster for the McPherson school district. During Monday’s meeting, he noted that it is still hard to gauge which direction the budget talks will take.

The Kansas Reporter contributed to this report.