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Lawmakers decline to investigate Brownback’s $2 billion error

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Friday, March 22, 2013, at 2:27 p.m.

— Lawmakers Friday decided not to investigate what caused a $2 billion error in a chart that Gov. Sam Brownback used to take credit for state spending cuts that never happened.

After a harsh debate over the integrity of the governor and his budget director, the Legislative Post Audit Committee rejected the audit request on a 5-4 party line.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, requested an audit to uncover the details of how Brownback’s budget director, Steve Anderson, passed along data showing state all-funds spending hit $16 billion in 2010 when Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson was in power. Spending that year was actually $14 billion.

“That is a very serious misrepresentation of the truth,” Hensley said. “I believe we should really looking at why this happened, how it happened and how we can avoid this from happening in the future.”

The error was exposed in a story in The Wichita Eagle in mid-February.

Anderson said the spreadsheet that led to the error was created before he was appointed, and he has taken responsibility for the error. Anderson said he offered to resign, an offer Brownback rejected. Brownback’s administration has said he has full faith in Anderson.

Hensley suggested that the bad numbers may have been politically motivated because they showed that Brownback, a conservative Republican, had lowered overall state spending.

Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, said that Hensley’s request was politically motivated. She said she discussed the error with Anderson and that he had vetted how the error happened. She said it unnecessarily calls into question the integrity of Brownback and Anderson.

“I would reject this fully," she said.

Other Republicans echoed the sentiment.

Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, called it a politically motivated move, and said the state could potentially save millions by auditing one of the other issues lawmakers want to investigate.

“I can’t believe we would waste precious staff time and resources on that when people have admitted responsibility,” he said.

Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, said that many lawmakers have said the state needs to operate more like a business, and he said an error of that magnitude in a business or corporation would have serious implications and more severe consequences.

“Somebody needs to be held accountable,” he said.

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