Yael T. Abouhalkah

Sam Brownback can stop sweating; at least Kansas’ April revenue shortfall wasn’t a disaster

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (center) is going to need the help of House Speaker Ray Merrick (left) and Senate President Susan Wagle to raise taxes and balance future state budgets.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (center) is going to need the help of House Speaker Ray Merrick (left) and Senate President Susan Wagle to raise taxes and balance future state budgets.

Gov. Sam Brownback and other tax-cut supporters can breath a little easier. April was another bummer of a month when it came to revenues in Kansas — but not the kind of shocking development that occurred in April 2014.

State officials late Thursday afternoon said total tax revenue was down $4.4 million in April over revised estimates for the month. Those estimates were released just last week, so any difference is still disturbing.

Corporate income tax receipts tanked, ending $3.3 million lower than recent estimates. And the most closely watched figure — individual income tax revenues — was $248,000 less than expected.

But remember April 2014? That’s when individual income taxes were $90 million short of predictions at the time. That was followed by shortfalls of $192 million in May and $25 million in June.

That free-fall in the last three months of the 2014 fiscal year was a fiscal bombshell.

It became obvious at that time that the Brownback tax cuts were not working to bring in nearly enough revenue to make up for the financial hole they had blown in the budget.

Thursday’s release of tax collections was the first since a new consensus revenue estimate delivered more disturbing news on April 20 about the state of Kansas’ financial health.

Officials announced that total revenues would come in almost $90 million short of original expectations by June 30, when the 2015 fiscal year ends. And revenues would be almost $200 million less than once predicted in the next two budget years, the analysts said.

The state now needs to find about $400 million to balance the 2016 fiscal year budget that starts July 1 and almost $800 million to balance the 2017 budget.

This week, House and Senate members began loosely discussing ways to do that.

Tax increases have been proposed on gasoline, cigarettes and liquor. So have a general sales tax and, most notably, a rollback of a part of the 2013 tax cuts when it comes to certain portions of income for selected Kansans.

That action could bring in more than $200 million a year, but it’s heavily opposed by the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Kansas leaders still have no good way out of this mess — absent the most logical one of repealing the 2013 tax cuts, a step Brownback has pledged won’t happen.

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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