New figures released Thursday reveal that Gov. Sam Brownback is not just shrinking Kansas government spending, he’s on his way to collapsing it because of his costly personal income tax cuts.
The upshot: The Legislature might have to slash $1 billion or more — that’s billion with a “b” — out of the next fiscal year’s budget starting in mid-2015. That would be approximately 15 percent or even more out of the $6 billion proposed budget.
That’s a huge threat to every service Kansans expect from their government, starting with public schools and going on through roads, public universities, social services and more.
While Brownback and other small-government supporters such as House Speaker Ray Merrick of Johnson County go around boasting about how they want to trim the fat from Kansas government, what’s actually going to occur could be something entirely different.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
That’s a wholesale reduction in value of government services for Kansans.
Here’s the gist of what’s happening.
Just weeks ago, the Legislature’s nonpartisan research staff and others estimated Kansas would have to chop $280 million from this year’s budget and $436 million from next year’s budget just to avoid running a deficit, which is not legal in the state.
But after Brownback this week said how he was going to balance the budget by reducing it by $280 million, something odd and bad happened.
The researchers pointed out that most of Brownback’s fixes are one-time reductions that can’t be repeated in the next fiscal year.
As The Associated Press reported: “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.”
Instead of $436 million, next year’s spending reduction would balloon to $648 million.
And that’s counting on state revenues coming in as predicted; they fell more than $300 million short of expectations in the last fiscal year.
But even that $648 million figure understates the problem.
As The Star’s Brad Cooper has noted, state rules require Kansas government to have some reserves in its general revenue fund. The state can ignore that rule.
However, the bond rating agencies won’t look kindly on a state that’s as broke as Kansas is becoming to keep nothing in its bank account.
So Brownback and the Legislature also may have to trim another $400 million or so in expenses in the 2015-16 fiscal year to provide reserves, truly balance the budget and keep the bond rating agencies from downgrading the state once again.
That’s how the state’s budget problem becomes in excess of $1 billion, not just shrinking Kansas government but threatening to destroy it.