Yael T. Abouhalkah

Roads, pensions, oh my: Sam Brownback’s Kansas endures another day of woeful budget news

Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget plan already has early casualties, with predictions that road repair funds will fall and pension costs will rise.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget plan already has early casualties, with predictions that road repair funds will fall and pension costs will rise. The Associated Press

Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget plan is just a few days old, but Kansas legislators on Tuesday already were hearing just how bad things could get in the next few years.

In other words, it was just another normal day of money woes in the financially strapped Sunflower State.

▪ First came the news that the Kansas Department of Transportation 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 governor needs to pay for the damage his costly tax cuts have done to the state’s general fund, which has been sapped of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues.

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.

▪ Then came the news that 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.

  Comments