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State Lowers Estimate of Kansas Tax Collections

Photo by J. Schafer
Photo by J. Schafer

A new estimate of Kansas tax collections contains gloomy news. A panel met Monday and lowered the state’s projected tax collections by nearly $300 million through mid-2017. KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports.

Governor Sam Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, says they’ll be looking for a total of $400 million in budget savings and new tax revenue. That would get the state to a balanced budget for the next two years and create a reserve.

“With the revision of revenues downward, it does make balancing the budget more of a challenge than it already was,” says Sullivan.

Sullivan was quick to point out that they do see some positives in the Kansas economic situation, specifically wage and job growth.

He says the Brownback administration will release an updated budget plan later this week. They’ll propose budget cuts, but some big items are already off the table.

“I think that the sentiment of most legislators I’ve talked to is that they’re going to leave K-12 alone, that takes off 50 percent of the budget. We’ve already made a lot of changes, policy proposals and reductions to Medicaid, that’s another 20 percent, so that doesn’t leave much to reduce,” says Sullivan.

Sullivan also says they won’t propose cuts to higher education.

So that leaves the question of tax increases. The governor has already proposed cancelling some planned future income tax cuts and increasing tobacco and alcohol taxes. Sullivan says they want to stay on the track of reducing income taxes.

“From the governor’s perspective, he would like to see us go into a consumption-based system and not reverse the income tax policy from 2012,” says Sullivan.

“Well, it’s obvious that the governor has significantly mismanaged the state’s budget,” says the top Democrat in the Kansas Senate, Anthony Hensley. He says the tax cuts have created the budget challenges.

Hensley believes that not all Republicans in the Legislature are going to see eye-to-eye when it comes to passing a budget and tax plan.

“You have conservatives who believe we should cut our way out of this problem, and at the same time then you have the governor who is proposing tax increases that the conservatives very likely will not support,” says Hensley.

In a statement, the chair of the House Tax Committee, Republican Marvin Kleeb, says they will look at “all revenue options.”

Republican House Speaker Ray Merrick says they will continue looking at ways to make government efficient.

Those two also echoed that they’ll avoid cuts to public schools. Scott Rothschild, with the Kansas Association of School Boards, says they’re glad to hear that, but they aren’t celebrating.

“That’s encouraging to hear. Of course, when the Legislature gets back they may decide something else. We have to be very vigilant,” says Rothschild.

The legislative session resumes next week, but some lawmakers will return later this week to review the new numbers.

The last time the revenue numbers were updated was November. The tax collections were also ratcheted down at that meeting.

Stephen Koranda is KPR's Statehouse reporter.