The top Republican in the Kansas Senate says lawmakers worry that Gov. Sam Brownback will fail to put forward a budget solution while he pursues a job with the federal government.
“I can assure you that a number of legislators are very concerned that the governor’s looking for a ticket to D.C., and we’re concerned that we may not get a budget that has a long-term structural fix in it,” Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, told reporters on Monday.
Kansas faces a projected budget shortfall of nearly $350 million for this fiscal year, which ends in June, and of more than $580 million for the following year.
Brownback has said he will release a plan to close the shortfall in January, when the Legislature convenes for its annual session. Wagle said the governor had not yet involved lawmakers in his budget plans.
Brownback has been rumored to be a candidate for a position in President-elect Trump’s administration. Clay Barker, the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, has said there are jobs available to the governor if he wants them.
Wagle and other Republican lawmakers have voiced frustration with the governor’s decision to wait until January to address the shortfall rather than using his executive power to cut the budget now.
Wagle also has said Brownback may pursue a one-time fix, such as selling off future proceeds from the state’s tobacco settlement or delaying payments to the state’s pension system.
“I can assure you the legislators I talk to are opposed to a one-time ‘borrow money to plug a hole’ solution,” said Wagle, who has repeatedly called for a more permanent fix to the state’s finances.
Brownback’s spokeswoman, Melika Willoughby, said in an e-mail that the governor “is focused on building a balanced budget and – as he has long promised – will present it to the legislature in January. If President Wagle or others have specific long-term structural fixes they would like to propose to Kansans before the legislative session begins, the Governor would be happy to take them under consideration.”
Frustration with the governor’s office has been widespread among legislative leaders. Asked what advice he had for his successor about the budget shortfall, retiring House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, quipped: “Get the second floor to listen.” The governor’s office is on the second floor of the Capitol.
Incoming House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, said he wanted to wait and see the governor’s budget before talking about how lawmakers would respond to a one-time fix. He said the governor should act to address the shortfall as soon as possible.
“Time is valuable when you’re having to make cuts,” Hineman said. “The sooner we make them, the more reasonable and responsible they can be made.”