TOPEKA – Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan for eliminating a projected $279 million shortfall in Kansas’ budget pushes most of the problem into the state’s next fiscal year, according to projections released Thursday by the Legislature’s nonpartisan research staff.
The Republican governor’s plan for preventing a deficit in the state’s main bank account relies heavily on diverting revenues from other funds to help finance general government programs. The tactic is a short-term solution that allows Brownback to lessen potential spending cuts for now. But absent a long-term solution, the gap between anticipated revenues and spending in the next fiscal year, beginning in July, will widen, according to the projections.
The budget gaps arose after aggressive personal income tax cuts enacted at Brownback’s urging in 2012 and 2013 to stimulate the state’s economy. The reductions are expected to save taxpayers $1.3 billion in the current and next fiscal years.
Legislative researchers’ new budget projections show Brownback’s plan closes the current fiscal year’s shortfall. But a shortfall for the next fiscal year – previously projected at $436 million – would grow to $648 million.
Three-quarters of the current year’s budget deficit would be added to next year’s gap instead of being eliminated.
“You’re rolling it forward into the next year,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and chairman of his chamber’s budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley didn’t immediately return telephone and email messages Thursday evening seeking comment. In an interview Wednesday, the governor said his plan closes the current budget’s shortfall without harming existing programs. It avoids cuts in aid to public schools, spending on state universities or the Medicaid program providing health coverage for the needy and disabled. But it does cut 4 percent in major agencies’ remaining administration spending.
The governor said Wednesday he’s still working on proposals for the next fiscal years. Lawmakers convene their next annual session Jan. 12.
“All options are on the table,” Brownback said.
Brownback contends the tax cuts are boosting the economy, creating jobs that will eventually lead to new revenue for the state’s coffers.
Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican serving on the House Appropriations Committee, said resolving problems with the current budget is tricky because “we don’t have as much time” with the fiscal year ending June 30.
“Our goal is to have a longer-term fix,” he said.
Brownback’s proposals for the current budget call for diverting nearly $207 million into the state’s main bank account from other accounts. The diverted dollars include highway funds and lawsuit settlement funds from tobacco companies normally dedicated to children’s programs.
“It means he’s shifting the problem to the next fiscal year,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. “It doesn’t solve the problem.”