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New Revenue Projection Deepens Kansas Budget Hole

Budget Director Shawn Sullivan explaining the budget plans to reporters. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

Estimates of how much Kansas will collect in taxes were ratcheted down sharply Wednesday. The updated revenue picture says the state will collect a quarter billion dollars less than previously expected over the next year and a half. That leaves Kansas with a deficit. As KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports, Republican Governor Sam Brownback is proposing plans for tackling it.

Kansas will need to find $140 million in the current fiscal year to get out of the red. Next fiscal year, which starts in July, will need another $151 million in cuts or new revenue. Governor Sam Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, laid out three options for filling the hole.

“These are the governor’s options to consider. We believe that these take a good view of how to get through this fiscal year and next,” says Sullivan.

All three of the governor’s proposals would take almost $200 million from the state highway fund over the next two years, resulting in road project delays. They also all include cuts to higher education.

None of the proposals include tax increases or undoing the tax cuts made in recent years.

“We presented three options. We consider these the three best options. The governor doesn’t believe that it’s useful to have a debate at this point about raising taxes on small businesses or anyone else,” says Sullivan.

The governor’s preferred plan would also sell off part of an annual tobacco lawsuit payment for one-time cash. Two alternatives would either delay a state pensions payment or cut most state agencies by 3 to 5 percent. The third choice also includes cutting K-12 education by $57 million.

Budget Director Sullivan says they’re not looking at reinstating business income taxes because the governor believes those are working to spur the economy.

“Low unemployment, (the) highest number of people working. Those are generally good things. We can all debate the tax policy and come up with 20 different things for or against,” says Sullivan.

Sullivan says outside factors, like a downturn in the oil and gas industry, are hurting the state’s bottom line. Democratic Senator Anthony Hensley says it’s not oil or agriculture causing this budget shortfall. He says it’s the tax cuts.

“We are sacrificing very important parts of our general fund budget on the altar of giving tax breaks to the wealthy,” says Hensley.
Hensley believes more lawmakers are warming to the idea of closing a loophole for business owner income and  reinstating taxes for more than 300,000 businesses.

“I think the people of Kansas get that. That’s a very unfair tax system,” says Hensley.

There’s currently a lawsuit over school funding before the Kansas Supreme Court. Democratic Senator Laura Kelly says they shouldn’t even be considering an option that would cut more than $50 million from schools.

“Clearly, we can’t cut schools any more, either morally or legally we can’t do that. If anything, we’re going to have to add more. The only way to do that is to look at our revenue stream,” says Kelly.

The full Legislature isn’t returning from their spring break until next week, but some budget committees will meet Thursday to review the new revenue numbers and the governor’s proposals.

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