Kansas legislators will return from their spring break Wednesday to face a daunting task, they must close projected budget gaps totaling about $290 million.
The Republican leadership said the budget mess may be all they can handle before the 2016 session comes to a grinding halt. The leaders of Legislature’s GOP supermajorities hope to remain in session for less than a week.
Why the problems?
In 2015, lawmakers passed the initial versions of the state’s current $15.7 billion budget and its $16.1 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. However, tax collections were disappointing so they revamped both spending plans in March.
Even worse yet, state officials and economists projected a more dire fiscal forecast last week that predicted total tax collections of $348 million through June 2017. It was these numbers that created the shortfalls lawmakers must close.
You see, the state constitution doesn’t permit budget deficits.
The problem dates back to 2012 and 2013 when at the Gov. Sam Brownback’s behest, the GOP-led Legislature slashed personal income taxes to stimulate the economy. This has failed.
A defiant Brownback blames the state’s budget woes on national slumps in agriculture, energy production and aircraft manufacturing, not his tax-cutting experiment.
Now, the governor’s office plans to divert $185 million from highway projects to general government programs, which would force the state to delay 25 major projects. Also, the governor plans to carry forward $17 million in immediate cuts he ordered at state universities into the next fiscal year.
Brownback has also proposed selling off the rights to part of the state’s annual payments from a national legal settlement with tobacco companies that was reached in the 1990s. The funds would back bonds that would then be issued to give the state a one-time infusion of $158 million.
These are all bad ideas. They are essentially taking out a second mortgage on our state’s future and kick the budget problem can down the road.
We Kansans wouldn’t expect to be successful if we operated our homes and businesses with the same reckless abandon. It is time for our leaders to set aside their pride and admit they made a mistake.
There are signs that lawmakers may be seeing the folly in all of this. The few Democrats in the Legislature along with a handful of Republicans have put forth legislation that would roll back some of the governor’s cuts.
But, Brownback remains resolute.
Righting this ship is possible, but it will take all hands on deck, including Brownback. Surely he doesn’t want this to be his legacy.