Gov. Sam Brownback hinted Friday that the state would have to raise taxes if the Kansas Supreme Court rules the state needs to put millions more toward education.
The court, which heard oral arguments in the case last week, will rely on a set of standards from Kentucky, known as the Rose Standards, to judge whether the state adequately funds education.
A study by the State Board of Education found earlier this year that funding would have to increase by roughly $900 million over two years to meet the standards, which outline education goals for students.
“You’d have to look at major tax increases to do that,” Brownback said when asked about the state board’s figure.
The cost could be higher if the court upholds a lower court’s ruling, which would require the state to increase funding by $800 million a year.
Any ruling in that range would be nearly impossible for the state to afford with its current budget outlook and probably would mean some combination of tax increases and budget cuts to other areas of state government.
You’d have to look at major tax increases to do that.
Gov. Sam Brownback when asked about State Board of Education funding numbers.
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the Senate budget committee, said a tax increase is likely regardless of how the court rules.
“We have to restore taxes regardless of what the court says. ... I don’t think he can blame this one on the courts,” Kelly said. “He’ll try.”
The state is on pace to face a $20 million budget hole by the end of June. Brownback’s office said earlier this week that he would not seek across-the-board cuts but would pursue more targeted efficiencies.
State agencies and universities submitted documents to the governor’s office in September outlining the impact of a 5 percent budget cut.
Wichita State University warned in its documents that an additional reduction, on top of cuts during the current and last budget year, would hinder the university’s ability to recruit and retain faculty members “with the expertise necessary to train graduates with the required skills needed by local businesses.”
Brownback would not talk Friday about the likelihood of further higher education cuts. He also would not offer more specific details on where in state government he would look for more cost savings ahead of January, when he submits a budget to the Legislature.
“I’m not going to say,” Brownback said. “I want to look and see what the situation is and ultimately it’s up to the legislators. They’re the appropriators.”
Kelly said state agencies have weathered harmful cuts for two years, which she blamed on tax cuts championed by Brownback. “Everybody’s hurting and I agree higher ed might not be able to fulfill its mission, but many of the other agencies can’t fulfill their missions now,” she said when asked if higher education should be exempted from more cuts.
Brownback blamed the state’s budget woes on the state’s lagging agricultural sector.
“That’s the piece that’s really been a struggle,” he said.