In the 2013 legislative session in Kansas, a two-year budget cycle was adopted, a first in our state’s history. The state budget, considerably the most important working document of the legislature, sets the boundaries from which the objectives of our state can be met. The budget is where we begin this update and its impact on the objectives of our state.
When reviewing legislative activity and the state budget, the nagging question should be, how small is too small? Or as Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently said, "Some states are choosing to make reduced services the new normal”.
What is the new normal for Kansans?
Reforming the tax code, with hopes of growing the number of jobs and the economy in the state, is clearly the road map of the current administration. Yet, how long a road and how bumpy are you willing to travel, with no history to suggest you will even reach your destination? Recently, Duane Goossen, Kansas Health Institute’s Vice President for Fiscal and Health Policy and former state budget director, requested a redo of the state’s revenue estimates. His concern? The highly unusual estimates were already $93 million off the mark, casting doubt and uncertainty regarding our state’s true financial condition.
What is at stake?
Downgrades. In our last update we reported on Moody’s downgrade in our state’s bond rating. Moody’s followed up with an additional downgrade last week to the credit rating at KU and Emporia State and a more detailed report on the state’s downgrade. “The state's ability to achieve structural balance long-term will depend, to an increasing degree, on its capacity for spending cuts," the Moody's report said.
What is targeted for cutting?
- Possible Kansas Court System Furloughs. As reported in the Kansas City Star, the budget bills passed by the legislature and signed into law, may not rule out furloughs in our courts system and strips the Supreme Court of setting court budgets. The new policy replaces sustained revenue with an increase in court fees without knowing the number of filings. Time will tell whether this mechanism provides the needed funding for the system. In the meantime, Kansans are likely to have long waits for justice, whether adoptions, compensation, or divorces. Some districts may have to shoulder the burden of financial hardship just to meet the needs of trials.
- Education Funding. This past recession told us all we need to know about the impact of revenues not matching estimates. Mid-year cuts in funding to schools have been the most difficult. With signed contracts for teachers, districts are left with little room in the budget for reductions. These difficult decisions put our children’s health and safety at risk as districts choose to eliminate custodians, nurses, and support personnel.
- Our Children and Low Income Families. Programs supporting educational success for our children and assistance to these families are crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty. In the case of Medicaid expansion, many are left without comprehensive coverage and future access to care. At minimal cost to the state, expanding Medicaid could provide a source of revenue to keep critical-access hospitals for our rural areas. How far is too far to travel for hospitalization?. Read Kansas Action For Children's "4 Reasons Why Medicaid Expansion Means a Healthier Kansas."
Every citizen and politician should know about the Kansas budget and how our standard of living will be affected by the financial policies of the state. Are the recent revenue reports also revealing an emerging pattern of uncertainty? The resignation of the House Appropriations chair stating, “the proposed spending is unsustainable given current state revenues” and the announcement from the Chair of Taxation that he won’t seek re-election – reflects a serious lack of confidence from the leaders of this risky tax experiment.
Elimination of income taxes removes 50% of our state general fund revenues. Job growth in Kansas has not come close to offsetting this financial loss. Thus, our budget is spending more than it is taking in. How will cuts affect you and your standard of living? Are you prepared to see the quality of children’s public education suffer? Are you prepared to save even more for higher education? Are you prepared to start paying for K-12? Are you prepared for more Kansans to slip into poverty?
Our state budget should reflect our priorities - the citizens of the state. Do more than vote, get involved, support candidates who support your priorities and share your concerns with others.