Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s administration has released a plan to fix a budget deficit in the current fiscal year. As KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports, cuts to highway funding and the state’s public retirement system will be key to balancing the Kansas budget.
Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, says the administration started by trying to find ways to reduce spending while minimizing the effect the cost-cutting would have on services.
“The thinking was to try to find as many efficiencies as possible, continue the plan of attack that we’ve had over the last several months. Work with agency leaders on how can we do business better and how can that lead to savings,” says Sullivan.
The plan includes a 4 percent cut to state agency budgets. Sullivan says that level of reduction should not lead to job cuts.
“Through these cabinet level agencies, which comprise the majority of these, no I don’t know of any layoffs that are planning to occur,” says Sullivan.
More than $40 million dollars will be cut from the state’s contribution to KPERS, the public employee retirement system. Sullivan says that will mean the state will need to pay more in the future to eliminate a long-term deficit in KPERS. He wants lawmakers to look at revamping the program in the coming legislative session.
“Those are going to be long-term options that we think will be good options to put KPERS in a better place, this is a temporary, short-term deal,” says Sullivan.
The state’s highway fund also takes a hit, with more than $95 million shifted to pay for other programs. Sullivan says that won’t affect projects in the state’s 10-year transportation plan, known as T-WORKS.
“KDOT is going to continue their projects. We’re committed to continuing the T-WORKS programs,” says Sullivan.
The top Democrat in the Kansas Senate, Anthony Hensley from Topeka, says Democrats were ringing the warning bell this year that the budget wouldn’t be looking good.
“For me, it’s an ‘I told you so’ type of situation,” says Hensley.
Hensley takes issue with the KPERS funding cut. He points to a bill passed in recent years that increased the amount both employees and the state pay into KPERS.
“And we are effectively reneging on the agreement that we had with our KPERs employees,” says Hensley.
Nearly $15 million would be taken from the Kansas Endowment for Youth to help balance the budget. The fund was created in 1999 and the money comes from a tobacco settlement.
Christie Appelhanz, with Kansas Action for Children, says that funding goes to childhood programs like Early Head Start. She says lawmakers have also taken money from the fund in the past.
“So, we’re already serving fewer children. Taking $15 million more dollars doesn’t help,” says Appelhanz.
Senator Hensley and Appelhanz point to tax cuts pushed by Brownback and passed in recent years as the cause of the budget shortfall.
“And we’re asking the youngest and most vulnerable Kansans to pay for business tax cuts,” says Appelhanz.
Budget Director Shawn Sullivan said last month that the tax cuts are working, and the state is growing economically. He says that growth will boost the budget in the coming years.
The budget plan doesn’t hit all state funding. K-12 schools and higher education won’t be cut.
Brownback can reduce agency budgets without permission from legislators. But lawmakers will need to approve the transfer of highway money and the other funding diversions in the plan.
Governor Sam Brownback’s administration has unveiled a plan to fix a budget shortfall in the current fiscal year. It includes a 4 percent cut to state agency budgets. It also also diverts money from the highway fund and cuts the state pension plan to help fill the gap.
Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, says they started by working with agencies to find efficiencies.
“And then the second thing was then to determine what additional reductions could be taken while minimizing the impact on programs and the core services to Kansans,” says Sullivan.
The plan spares K-12 and higher education funding from cuts.
Brownback can cut agency budgets without legislative permission. But lawmakers will need to approve the transfer of highway money and other funding diversions in the plan.