State lawmakers are justifiably frustrated that Gov. Sam Brownback is delaying action on closing the state budget shortfall. The longer he waits, the fewer the options.
It’s also puzzling how Brownback intends to cover the nearly $350 million shortfall without “layoffs, furloughs or major cuts.”
When past governors faced current year budget shortfalls, they implemented mid-year allotment cuts to state agencies and services. But Brownback plans not to make any cuts – or even announce what he intends to do – until the Legislature returns in January.
“He is taking what I would consider the coward’s way out by not proposing cuts even before the session,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, urged other GOP senators to call on Brownback “to lead and use this opportunity to implement necessary cuts this fiscal year.”
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said, “It’s disappointing he’s not doing anything.”
Not only is Brownback refusing to take immediate action, his office says that his budget plan won’t include significant budget cuts or layoffs.
Given that the state has already swiped nearly every available dime from the state transportation fund this year, lawmakers are wondering where Brownback might find enough money to cover the shortfall.
Many are speculating that Brownback may revive a proposal to sell the state’s future proceeds from its tobacco settlement – a desperate move to raise cash. He might also propose additional delays in payments to the state’s pension fund.
“There is talk of bullying the Legislature into another one-time fix,” Wagle warned.
The problem with waiting until the Legislature returns is that it leaves less than six months in the fiscal year to solve the problem. And if significant cuts are required, that can be difficult to implement when the budget year is already more than half completed.
Lawmakers think that is part of Brownback’s strategy: By delaying action, he limits the options.
“He’s got a one-time money, short-term fix that he wants the legislators to agree to,” said Jim Denning, R-Overland Park. “And the longer he waits the easier that becomes, because the fuse will be so short to touching the explosive that everybody’s going to be under lots of pressure to look at a one-time solution.”
At least the November tax collections met the revenue estimates (which were sharply lowered earlier last month). That means the shortfall didn’t get even deeper while Kansans wait on Brownback to act.
One thing on which nearly every lawmaker agrees: Brownback isn’t showing much leadership.