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Brownback’s budget director offered to resign after $2 billion error

Updated: 2013-03-09T19:17:48Z

By Dion Lefler

The Wichita Eagle

Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director said Friday that he offered his resignation after a $2 billion error on a spreadsheet found its way into a chart the governor used to claim credit for spending cuts that never happened.

Steve Anderson said the erroneous spreadsheet was produced before he took office and he never saw it, but he felt he needed to take responsibility for it because it had come from his department on his watch.

“Appropriately, I offered the governor my resignation and even more appropriately, I offered every citizen of the state an apology,” Anderson said. “That’s the sort of integrity you expect from your public officials and I will guarantee you that’s what you will get from this office.”

The error was revealed in a Feb. 17 Wichita Eagle story that also questioned the Brownback administration’s calculation of the amount of school funding spent on classroom instruction.

Anderson explained the spreadsheet error during a speech at the Republican Pachyderm Club in Wichita Friday.

While the actual state budget book was accurate, the $2 billion error in spending was incorporated into a PowerPoint chart that Brownback used for months, as he sought support for his fiscal policies from influential groups across the state, including the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Brownback’s chart showed state all-funds spending peaking at $16 billion in 2010, the last year of Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson’s administration. Spending that year actually was $14.04 billion.

Based on the incorrect number, Brownback claimed credit for the “first bending down of the cost curve in 40 years for the state.”

However, the corrected figures showed the state spent more under Brownback’s administration than Parkinson’s.

“As I told the governor when I offered my resignation … I not only would have accepted it, I would have ran me out of the state on a rail,” Anderson said. “However, I guess it may be his version of punishment, he says, ‘You’re not getting off that easy.’”

After the error came to light, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, announced that he would seek a legislative audit into how it occurred. He said the Brownback administration has “been fast and loose with the numbers since, well, ever since their administration started.”

Anderson said he has taken steps to prevent any similar errors in the future. He said he has had the software revised so that a change to any part of the budget will change the entire budget, which should make it easier to spot errors.

In addition, he said he’s established a policy of personally reviewing all spreadsheets before they go to the governor’s office.

Although he didn’t mention her by name in his speech Friday, Anderson defended Elaine Frisbie, the deputy director of the department who had told The Eagle that she had sent the erroneous spreadsheet to the governor’s staff.

“The staffer that accidentally sent that file out is a lifetime state employee and an incredible staffer who I have a great deal of trust in,” he said.

Anderson said he had originally intended to return to private accounting practice fairly soon, but he now plans to remain as budget director for “as long as the governor wishes me to be there.”

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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