Lawmakers say Gov. Sam Brownback needs to lay out a vision for fixing the state’s budget in his State of the State address on Tuesday, though some question whether he will.
Brownback will release his budget proposal on Wednesday. He has promised to offer a balanced budget but has not provided details about how he plans to address a projected shortfall of more than $900 million in the next 18 months.
“I’m not predicting anything,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who had called on the governor to cut the budget before the session started.
“I’m concerned that since he chose not to cut … that it’s highly likely he offers a one-time solution, which to most of my caucus, is not a structural fix,” Wagle said.
Rep. Leo Delperdang, R-Wichita, a freshman lawmaker, said Brownback “needs to address the budget, what cuts or what avenue’s going to take place.”
Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, said he was optimistic that would happen.
“I think he’s going to lay out what his plan is,” he said. “How big of detail he gets in? You know how that is. Sometimes it’s not a lot of detail to it, but hopefully he’ll hit the points that we need to do.”
Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, predicted Brownback will skirt the issue in his speech.
“I don’t have any faith whatsoever that the governor will offer any meaningful reforms or changes,” he said. “The governor has a record of making appeals to folks’ emotions rather than dealing with reality in his State of the State addresses, and I have no reason to expect any less of him tomorrow.”
Brownback’s spokeswoman, Melika Willoughby, said the governor would talk about the issue but did not offer details.
Brownback’s State of the State speech does not always line up with the budget plan he releases the next day.
In 2015, he called for the state to boldly continue its “march to zero” on income taxes. The next day, his budget director unveiled a plan that delayed scheduled income tax cuts and froze tax rates.
“The State of the State? I’m not expecting much,” said Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita. “I think he’s going to try smoke and mirrors again. … I think there will be a lot of fluff and not much substance.”
Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, said she’ll be “disappointed if we don’t face reality and think about some tax reform. As a member of the tax committee, we’re really gung ho to get to work on reform, and I feel optimistic that he’s willing to work with us on that.”
Another issue the governor will likely address is school funding. Lawmakers face a tight deadline to pass a new school finance formula before block grants expire at the end of June.
“I’m hoping that he’s going to be involved,” Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, vice chairman of a special K-12 budget committee, said of Brownback.
Huebert said some lawmakers want to return to the old funding formula that was used from 1992 until 2015.
“And I do believe he’s going to stress that although there’s things in the old formula that make sense and probably could be part of a new formula, he doesn’t want to go back to the old formula,” Huebert said. “I think he’s going to probably discuss that and say that’s the wrong direction to go in.”