Kansas state agencies have asked for more than $274 million in new funding next year, months after Gov. Sam Brownback said the current budget includes unnecessary spending.
One agency seeks money to restore earlier cuts to universities. Another wants money to eliminate waiting lists for people with disabilities. A third wants more money for social workers.
The agencies – led mostly by Brownback appointees – collectively seek a 4.1 percent increase in spending in next year’s general fund budget, according to legislative researchers.
Only a few months ago, Brownback complained about spending he viewed as excessive when he signed the budget into law, though he didn’t use line-item vetoes to cut spending.
"This budget…unnecessarily increases government spending in several areas and fails to adopt common sense cost saving measures" previously identified, Brownback said on June 25.
The current budget Brownback criticized increased spending by $290 million, or 4.6 percent, over the previous year.
The agency requests for the next fiscal year are preliminary – a wish list of sorts from the agencies. The governor may or may not include them in his budget proposal.
The requests became public when the agencies presented them to a legislative committee last week.
Brownback spokeswoman Rachel Whitten didn’t directly answer a question about whether Brownback thinks the agency requests contain unnecessary spending. Instead, she emphasized the agencies are making the requests directly to the Legislature. The creation of the governor’s budget proposal is a separate process, she said.
“These types of budget enhancement requests happen annually, but agencies typically don’t look at the whole of the budget and take into account the limitations of state resources and those requests should not be mistaken for the Governor’s budget proposal,” Whitten said in a statement.
The requests do not include additional spending for schools. The Kansas Supreme Court in October struck down the state’s education funding formula as unconstitutional. Legislative leaders have created a committee to craft a response to the decision; Brownback has not said publicly how the Legislature should respond.
Attorneys for school districts who are suing for additional funding in a lawsuit known as Gannon say upwards of $600 million in additional spending may be needed.
Paying for an increase of that magnitude would potentially require a tax increase or significant cuts in other areas of government. Lawmakers probably wouldn’t be able to fund the budget increases sought by state agencies.
"So that will be the tradeoff, once again, given the Gannon case will continue to receive a lot of attention," said Rep. Steven Johnson, an Assaria Republican who chairs the House tax committee.
The budgeting process comes at an awkward time for Brownback, who is awaiting U.S. Senate confirmation as an ambassador. The timing of the confirmation vote is uncertain, leaving Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer waiting in the wings to become governor.
The Kansas Division of Budget will work with the governor in early December to put together a budget proposal, said Shawn Sullivan, the state budget director. The governor – whoever he is – will then release the proposal and give a State of the State speech early in January.
"I really don’t know who’s going to deliver the State of the State," Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said.
Agencies may feel freer to ask for funding increases because of the prolonged transition from Brownback to Colyer, House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, suggested. Brownback is on his way out, but Colyer will not talk about policy while Brownback remains governor.
"They see an opportunity to kind of put forward some ideas that they may have been doing internally, or backroom, but were getting shot down," Ward said of the agencies.
Agencies have seen rounds of cuts over the past few years as Kansas revenue collections fell short of projections month after month. Just a year ago Sullivan asked agencies to show how they would cut 5 percent from their budgets if needed – planning that only became public because of leaks.
But the budget situation is improving after the Legislature approved income tax increases over Brownback’s veto. That is expected to raise $1.2 billion in additional revenue over two years.
The state regularly meets or exceeds targets now. Kansas is now spending less than it takes in under its current budget, leaving a positive end balance in the budget – and cash for agencies to potentially spend.
Funds sought for waiting list
The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services is making the largest budget request.
KDADS asks for $86 million to eliminate waiting lists for people with physical and developmental disabilities who seek home and community-based services as alternatives to institutionalization. More than 4,800 people are on waiting lists, according to a September KDADS report.
The $86 million is enough to pay for services for all people on waiting lists as of September, said Angela de Rocha, an agency spokeswoman. KDADS has not previously requested an amount that large in an effort to clear the list, she said.
"As you are no doubt aware, this is a longstanding problem that goes back to 2004," de Rocha said.
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said she questioned the sincerity of the agency’s request.
"This has been an issue for years and all of a sudden they come in with this sky-high request to immediately clear the waiting list when they know full well the infrastructure…isn’t out there to immediately provide services," Kelly said.
Sean Gatewood, spokesman for the KanCare Advocates Network, called the amount requested awesome, but expressed concern about the practicality of quickly providing services to everyone on the waiting lists.
"It would probably be a couple years to get things ramped up to absorb that many people into that system," Gatewood said.
Many of the requests from other agencies are smaller. Among them:
▪ The Kansas Department of Corrections wants $12.6 million for salary adjustments for officers. Brownback raised officer pay in August following disturbances and staffing shortages in the state’s prisons.
▪ The Board of Regents wants $23.9 million to restore a previous funding cut to universities.
▪ The Department for Children and Families wants $5.7 million for staff and other items.
▪ The Office of Information and Technology Services wants $8.8 million for modernization and cybersecurity. The Adjutant General wants $6.3 million for capital improvements and disaster funding.