Joco Opinion

Brownback is finally talking sense on spending

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback recently spoke about the difficulties involved in the budget process.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback recently spoke about the difficulties involved in the budget process. File photo

Finally, someone is talking sense, and that someone is our much-maligned governor, Sam Brownback. Recently, Brownback announced that he’s open to cutting government spending. It’s about time.

Because it’s an election year, voters are going to be hit with a wall of sound bytes explaining how Kansas’ budget is in the tank. That’s simply not true.

Because of budget shortcomings — notice I didn’t say shortfalls — the governor announced fund transfers that will balance the budget for the fiscal year. The biggest problem with the Sunflower State’s budget right now isn’t that we’ve sliced spending to the bone. The big challenge is revenues aren’t meeting projections.

That doesn’t mean we’re spending less. Since 2012, the first year Brownback was a full party to the state budget, Kansas spent $6 billion. This year, despite Brownback’s recent budget shaving, Kansas will spend more than $6.1 billion, marking an increase in the last four years.

Kansas is consistently bringing in more revenue month over month than it did the year before. Legislators are required to base the budget they adopt each year on the estimates provided. So, when you see these election year stories about the Sunflower State budget crisis, please understand that state spending isn’t in the tank. We’re spending as much or more than we ever have before.

The estimators keep getting it wrong, detractors complain about budget cuts, the bureaucrats wail and voters are expected to demand tax increases. It’s a gross display, and the solution is finding a new budget brain trust to crunch the estimates.

The state of Kansas is bringing in plenty of money, though there are reasonable arguments for creating a fairer or flatter tax code. Be wary, however, believing that a rollback of limited liability company tax cuts approved in 2012 will solve budget woes. The so-called moderates who are complaining the most about the LLC-loophole voted against revoking it, and closing the loophole only adds about $110 million to Kansas’ bottom line. That’s likely not nearly enough money to fill the budget hole members of the Kansas Supreme Court are likely to dig in September.

That’s when the court announced it will hear oral arguments in the never-ending school funding saga. The court threatened to close schools if legislators didn’t move $38 million in order to make funding equitable.

Legislators resolved the equity issue in a special session a few weeks ago, and now the Kansas Supreme Court is angling to drop an October Surprise into an election year by holding a hearing on funding adequacy in September. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, a handful of school districts funded by taxpayers, are seeking more than $500 million in their quest for school adequacy.

This is a legal drama starring a Supreme Court Justice, Dan Biles, who used to be the attorney for the Kansas State Association of School Boards. The Honorable Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall has recused himself from school funding cases because he once served as an chief counsel for Gov. Sam Brownback.

But Biles continues to hear school funding cases. Surprisingly, Biles rules in favor of the state spending more and more money on government schools every single time. It’s almost as if he’s biased in their favor.

Since 1992, state funding of government schools has nearly tripled, but student outcomes have flatlined. When former Gov. Mark Parkinson, with the help of legislators at the time, shaved some pennies off of school funding because of the recession, student outcomes remained flat.

When school funding increased as the recession subsided, student National Assessment of Educational Progress scores remained flat. More funding doesn’t translate into higher scores.

This election season promises to be filled with legal intrigue, misleading machinations, and desperate attempts at forcing taxpayers to hand over more money, whether it’s needed or not.

I’m glad Gov. Brownback has decided it’s time to consider spending cuts. They won’t result in poorer student outcomes and they may result in a budget that no longer requires regular adjustments with a gubernatorial scalpel.

Now if only we can elect a Legislature with the courage to make it happen and toss out the justices who think it’s their job to rule over taxpayers’ pocketbooks.

Danedri Herbert writes monthly. Reach her at danedrih@gmail.com. On Twitter: @danedri.

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