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The Wichita Eagle: Stimulus Funding a Huge Help to State

Many Kansas GOP lawmakers hate the economic stimulus package engineered by the Democratic Congress and signed by President Obama. But they've got to love how it promises to make the 2010 state budget far easier to craft and pass during the session's 43 remaining days.

The expectation of nearly $1 billion coming to the state allowed Kathleen Sebelius, the state's soon-to-be-former governor, to submit a revised 2010 budget Friday that would balance without tax increases. Her proposed spending cuts of $600 million, most already reflected in her original 2010 blueprint, would not be without consequences in the way of closed facilities, eliminated programs and more.

But neither would the cuts do the kind of damage that's unavoidable if, say, Senate Republicans barrel ahead with plans to slash an average 10 to 13 percent across state government.

'This federal money stabilizes things. It keeps us from having to make those cuts that go deeper,' state budget director Duane Goossen told The Eagle editorial board.

State leaders were wise not to count on receiving stimulus money until it started flowing, as it did last week in the form of $71.5 million more for Medicaid. And they will need to use the cash with caution, like the one-time infusion it is.

With scrutiny, maybe some of the stipulations will prove too problematic. But it's hard to argue with at least those outlined Friday: An additional $430 million would be available for Medicaid, for example, on the condition that eligibility standards not be cut. Maintaining K-12 school funding at fiscal 2009 levels and restoring higher education to fiscal 2008 levels would entitle the state to $367 million in stimulus money. Not cutting special education would access another $107 million. Millions more would serve public safety and fund unemployment benefits.

The attached strings are in keeping with the point of including money for states in the federal stimulus: to safeguard jobs and public services and strengthen states' self-defenses against the darkening recession.

It's one thing for Republicans to dislike the stimulus as a whole. Most do, because of the size and nature of the spending in the bill and the additional federal debt it will incur. Certainly the five Kansas Republicans in Congress have had few kind words for the effort, which they proudly voted against.

But it should not be treated as 'funny money,' as House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, has referred to it.

The cash is real, all right -- meant to be spent helping Kansans endure the downturn and helping Kansas rebound.