Opinion

On grim Tuesday, Sam Brownback’s new budget harms schools, roads, pensions

As bad news showed on Tuesday, the proposed budget of Gov. Sam Brownback is going to have lots of negative effects on public services in Kansas.
As bad news showed on Tuesday, the proposed budget of Gov. Sam Brownback is going to have lots of negative effects on public services in Kansas. The Associated Press

On a grim Tuesday, the proposed budget of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback claimed three victims.

School funding will be cut. So will money for road repairs as well as for pensions for city, county and state workers, plus teachers.

Here’s worse news: It’s early, and things could deteriorate even more as state legislators look into the details of how Brownback’s tax cuts have siphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars from the general fund.

Brownback wants to hike sin taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, but also cut education, hold off on road maintenance and put less into the state-controlled pension plans for tens of thousands of public employees.

On Tuesday, Kansans heard:

▪ The governor’s proposed budget could slice about 4 percent of the funding for the K-12 schools’ operating budgets.

The Kansas Department of Education said his plan requires a $127.4 million reduction in the next fiscal year.

Brownback wants to kill the current school formula, which the Legislature has failed to adequately finance for years, and replace it with block grants. It’s unknown yet how that would affect individual districts, including those in Johnson County.

Brownback’s plan also is seen as an attempt to get around a recent court ruling, which found good reasons to believe state officials actually should be placing a $550 million more a year into K-12 schools.

▪ The Kansas Department of Transportation announced it plans to delay about $300 million in repairs to state roads because Brownback wants to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from the transportation budget.

The upshot: Kansas roads won’t be properly maintained in the short run. And engineers know exactly what that means when it comes to infrastructure: Long-term repairs will be more costly.

Ignoring the problem of crumbling roads, in other words, won’t make the problem go away.

▪ And pension officials said a Brownback-inspired plan to delay payments into the state’s pension system could cost an extra $9.1 billion.

The irony here is that Brownback and the Legislature in recent years actually had taken a few positive steps to shore up the financially troubled plan.

But after the tax cuts, Brownback needs to balance the current year’s budget. One way he wants to do that is divert $58 million in state payments once destined to the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System. It provides benefits not only for many state workers but also for state and city employees as well as teachers.

The problem with monkeying around with the KPERS funding is that the long-term costs are passed on to future generations.

And how will they have to pay the extra $9 billion lug if and when it comes? Through higher taxes from the public — or much lower benefits for employees, a fight that could be terribly difficult to win in the legal system.

There’s more to come, of course, as Brownback’s budget proposal goes through the Legislature. They also have to decide what to do with school funding, which makes up half of the general fund’s expenses.

Mix in the fact that Brownback’s tax cuts are not producing nearly enough jobs to generate new tax revenue, and Kansas is in a world of fiscal hurt in early 2015.

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.

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