More than a week into the final session of the Kansas Legislature, and we are going backwards on the budget. The hole is still $800 million. For a while there it looked like the Governor's proposed sin taxes would fill a lot of that hole, and people were talking about a $400 million gap, or even a now-mythical $139 million gap. But this past week the only real movement in the budgetary discussion was to table, un-table, and then basically ignore the Governor's proposals. The gap is still $800 million, and until they actually pass a bill that appropriates money or cuts expenses, that gap will remain.
Where are we with the 2015 Kansas Budget?
We have been beating this drum all year: the big three issues to watch were going to be the fate of public education, the relationship between the judicial branch and the legislature, and the financial fortunes of the state.
In our forum last night, "Gutting the Budget," our guests reiterated the depth of the financial problem in Kansas. There is a gap of almost a billion dollars that will have to be bridged somehow. Duane Goossen, former Kansas Budget Director under three administrations, said that theoretically, the Legislature could just end the year without making up the difference, leaving it up to the Governor to slash spending. Imagine if Governor Brownback were given carte blanche (and a ready "Not my fault" excuse) to slash $100 million, $200 million, or even more from the budget.
School districts have been promised more (actually less) money next year. So much more money that some are closing early, some are firing entire staffs, some are cutting training, supplies, and building services. Now imagine the Governor looking at those "fat cats" with his red pen in hand.
The budget for the judicial branch of government has been set aside, to be decided separately from the rest of the State's finances. Why? Well, for special consideration of their importance to the fortunes of the state. After all, there are hearings going on today in front of a three judge panel about school finance, with the real possibility that the Governor's pet "block grants" project might be stalled. Now imagine the governor looking at the judicial branch's budget with his red pen in hand.
- Kansas: Senate plan provides judiciary more funding, but only if courts rule against pending lawsuit - Gavel to Gavel
The answer continues to be so simple. Roll back the tax cuts of 2012. Restore the revenue.
The sales tax enacted in 2010 to help Kansas out of the recession was working, so well that the Governor and his allies envisioned a Texas-like utopia where income tax was at zero and minimum-wage jobs flooded into the market under sunny Kansas skies. The tax cuts were enacted in 2012, and revenues declined, then dropped like a meteor through the hull of the good ship Kansas. The result today? That sales tax has not been allowed to expire like it was supposed to. Jobs are stagnant. Twice as many businesses as expected, many of them one-person LLCs, are paying no income tax. We are stealing money from transportation, mortgaging the state's retirement system to the tune of $1 billion, and stifling opportunity for public school children across the state. And still there is an $800 million gap. After all that, we are still short nearly a billion dollars.
Best Case Scenarios
Best case scenario? The legislature enacts "consumption taxes," claiming that these taxes are voluntary. If you buy stuff (like food?) then you are voluntarily paying the increased taxes. Don't have much money? Don't buy stuff (like food). Simple, in their minds.
- Kansas lawmakers are pondering a sales tax increase to fill budget void - KC Star
- Kansas Taxes in 2013 - Who Pays? - KCEG
Best case scenario? The legislature cuts school funding further with an apology (if we're lucky) and a shrug.
Best case scenario? In all the projections and hopeful proposals, they never actually closed the gap. At best, back in the rosy days of candor and compromise two weeks ago, they managed to close the theoretical gap to $139 million.
Now imagine Governor Brownback with his red pen in hand and $139 million to cut. That's the best case scenario.
It is safe to say that not many Kansans understand just how much of a crisis this is, or how much worse it could become. It is up to you to change that. Tell them what is happening. Tell them what could happen. Stand up, speak out, bring it up and help us break out of this cycle of uninformed voters unmotivated to vote.