A House committee on Monday decided to reverse a decision it made last week and fully restore Gov. Sam Brownback’s request to use millions of dollars from the Kansas Department of Transportation to fill gaps in other state spending.
The governor, a Republican, wants to take $724 million from transportation projects. Last week, the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee voted to reduce that amount by $280 million, allowing about $444 million to be transferred in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. On Monday, during a quick meeting not held in a committee room, the panel restored the $280 million transfer, allowing the governor to have the full $724 million he sought.
Rep. Russ Jennings, a Lakin Republican who last week proposed the reduction in the amount Brownback would get, said he was not surprised by the committee’s decision to reverse it. Jennings said he was happy the action prompted discussion about fiscal responsibility.
“We’ve used up all of the borrowing that’s available, basically, and we’re being asked essentially to use borrowed money to pay on debt,” Jennings said. “… That’s like a credit card on a credit card.”
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Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican and the committee’s chairman, said Monday that more study was needed to determine how reducing the amount of the fund transfers would affect the entire state budget.
“It’s important that we bring all the parties together and come up with a solution that fits within the budget and this action,” Claeys said.
Claeys said he called the meeting outside a committee hearing room Monday because he had to attend another committee later in the day.
Transportation Department officials said that despite the funds transfer, all transportation projects would continue on schedule but some maintenance projects would be delayed.
Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Fairway Republican on the committee, said the Brownback administration was using fund transfers to avoid dealing with a drop in tax revenue.
“For the purists who think we have a spending problem, it’s time to start talking about where you would entertain cutting the budget,” she said. “For the rest of us who think we really do have a revenue problem, we really need to get at that.”
The state is facing a projected $344 million shortfall in the state’s current budget, with an additional deficit of nearly $600 million for the next fiscal year. The budget problems arose after lawmakers cut income taxes at Brownback’s urging in 2012 and 2013.