The last time the Kansas budget was in this big of a mess was just a few years ago during the Great Recession. And like during the Great Recession, education funding is potentially on the chopping block.
Then, state budgets across the nation crumbled from economic shocks felt around the world. Then, the federal government helped out with a stimulus lifeline to states.
This time, Kansas is on its own in a self-imposed downward spiral. Cuts in income tax rates and elimination of state income taxes for 190,000 businesses owners are drastically reducing the amount of revenue to the state. In pushing for the tax cuts, Gov. Sam Brownback said they would spur the economy like a “shot of adrenaline.” So far, that hasn't happened.
On Monday, state fiscal experts, meeting as the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, revised tax revenue projections downward, producing a $279 million shortfall between what is budgeted and what is expected in revenue for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends in June.
That means when legislators meet in January they will have to bridge a $279 million gap to balance the budget.
And then they will immediately face another $436 million revenue shortfall when working on the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2015. The report can be found at http://budget.ks.gov/files/FY2016/CRE_Short_Memo_Nov2014.pdf
In total, Brownback and legislators will have to make cuts, adjustments, and find efficiencies worth $715 million. In a $6 billion annual budget, that is a sizable chunk. Under Brownback and the conservative-run Legislature, there has been no discussion of tax increases.
What does this mean for education?
Since public school funding makes up half of the state budget, the prospect of education cuts has arisen.
When asked if the budget can be balanced without cutting public schools, Brownback's budget director Shawn Sullivan didn't answer the question directly. Sullivan said Brownback's team would look for "efficiencies" throughout the budget, including public schools.
"The state of Kansas must continue to live within its means, just like families do," he said.
He said allotments — budget cuts implemented by the governor alone — were a possibility before the January startup of the 2015 legislative session.
During the recently-completed gubernatorial campaign, Brownback promised he would not cut funding to schools. He defeated Democrat Paul Davis, who had vowed to restore school funding and that the Brownback tax cuts were bankrupting the state.
After the news conference on the new revenue projections, Democrats said the budget figures released six days after the general election proved they were right.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Brownback lied to voters and that Brownback will cut funding to schools, highways and social services.
"Now, he and his followers will get exactly what they wanted — to starve public schools, to raid the highway fund, and to cut the social service safety net that so many Kansans depend on; all of this for the sake of his own re-election and political aspirations," Hensley said.
Eileen Hawley, a spokesperson for Brownback issued a statement, saying, "Now that we have the projections for expenditures and revenues, the governor will go to work on a budget and policy agenda to present to the Legislature in January. The state of Kansas must continue to live within its means, just as families across our state do every day. Our primary focus will be to curtail growth in state spending through additional efficiencies and policy proposals while continuing our focus on growing the economy and creating private sector jobs."