After downplaying the extent of Kansas’ financial problems in his re-election campaign, Gov. Sam Brownback this week took the first of many painful steps to shore up the state’s badly leaking budget.
To find $280 million, about the amount needed to finish this fiscal year with a balanced budget, Brownback:
▪ Proposed raiding the state highway fund for nearly $100 million.
▪ Reversed a 10-year trend of building up public employee retirement funds with a $40.7 million cut in this year’s state contribution.
▪ Decimated an endowment fund intended to pay for early childhood education programs. The fund, repeatedly pillaged over the years, had $14.5 million left. Brownback wants to take all of it.
▪ Resorted to an imprudent, across-the-board, 4 percent cut for state agencies. Hardest hit will be the Department of Children and Families, which will lose $4 million of anticipated revenue through the end of June.
▪ Delayed the start of an expansion project at Larned State Hospital and cut $5 million from the already weakened Kansas Bioscience Authority.
These are demoralizing, stopgap measures that leave no money in reserve and may further damage Kansas’ standing with bond rating agencies. They will make government smaller but less able to provide adequate public services.
They also don’t even pretend to get to the heart of the problem — the excessive tax cuts enacted by Brownback and the Legislature.
It is now clear that the cuts, which mostly benefit wealthy Kansans and certain types of businesses, have left the state without the means to provide even a baseline level of services.
Kansas’ leaders already were looking at having to make more than $430 million in additional cuts for the budget year that begins next July. But because most of the measures Brownback proposed this week are one-time remedies, the Legislature and governor actually will have to slice significantly more than that from services to arrive at a balanced budget later in 2015.
Unless the elected officials muster the political courage to reverse some of the reckless tax cuts, Kansans are looking at brutal budget-starving measures well into the future.
That is a formula for decline, not growth, of the Sunflower State.