Government & Politics

Kansas budget shortfall stays set, but November revenue beats estimate

Kansas took in $1.4 million above estimates in total tax receipts for November, according to a report by the state Department of Revenue.
Kansas took in $1.4 million above estimates in total tax receipts for November, according to a report by the state Department of Revenue.

Kansas exceeded revenue estimates last month but is still looking at a nearly $348 million budget shortfall, according to the state’s November revenue report.

The monthly figures released Thursday by the Kansas Department of Revenue showed the state slightly outdid revenue estimates for the first time this fiscal year, which started July 1. But that only came after state officials last month revised estimates for the fiscal year downward.

Kansas took in $1.4 million above estimates in total tax receipts for November, according to the report. The state expected to bring in $399.99 million last month, but actually collected $401.3 million.

Compared to the same month last year, tax collections were down by $28.9 million, according to the report.

Rep. Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican and House Appropriations Committee chairman, said it was hard to react to just one month. But he added that the report’s figures showing that the state beat estimates were “good to see.”

“Unless numbers increase drastically, we still are going to have a major job to do when we return in January,” said Ryckman, who is running to become the next Kansas House speaker.

Retail sales tax money fell roughly $432,000 below the estimate in November. But the state exceeded projections for the corporate income tax total by $51,607 and outpaced projections for individual income tax collections by $970,374.

“Retail sales and corporate taxes continue to show negative growth due to agricultural and energy sector weakness,” Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan said in a statement.

Gov. Sam Brownback has said repeatedly that he will not move to erase the shortfall until he presents a plan to the Legislature in January.

That move has drawn criticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. In a news conference earlier this week, Brownback said he wasn’t talking to lawmakers about a potential fix.

“No. No. This is an internal budget development,” Brownback said. “And we’ll put it in front of the Legislature.”

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the state has a “mess on our hands.”

He said that both lawmakers and the people of Kansas should be concerned about the governor’s decision.

“We still have a great challenge ahead of us during the session,” Hensley said after hearing the numbers. “It’s even greater since the governor is not providing leadership to at least give us some preliminary idea as to how he plans to deal with this issue.”

After he heard the numbers, House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican, said, “Well, that’s better.”

“That’s at least a move in the right direction for the first time, as long as recent memory anyway,” said Vickrey, who is also running for the House speaker spot. “But still, hopefully it’s a trend that continues and we start building back. But we need a much healthier turn than $1 million at a time. But at least it’s much better than being down another huge amount.”

The governor’s reluctance to quickly mend the shortfall, which his administration has done during other budget issues, comes at a time when there has been talk that Brownback could leave his post and join President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.

Brownback has repeatedly said he will not comment on the matter.

Before Thursday’s report, the last time Kansas met revenue estimates was in April.

The revised forecasts released last month also showed a dreary outlook heading into the 2018 fiscal year that begins July 1, 2017.

State officials said they are expecting a $582.6 million shortfall in that year.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw