Lacking a time machine they could use to return to 2012 and undo the reckless state income tax cuts, the 2015 Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback have no choice but to come up with a balanced two-year budget by whatever means necessary in the wrap-up session that starts Wednesday.
If they follow state law, they won’t just aim to stay out of the red, either, but will plan for a 7.5 percent ending balance.
That wouldn’t be easy, which is why the governor and GOP legislative leaders more likely will scrape by the balanced-budget requirement and declare victory.
From Wednesday through final adjournment, though, higher education officials, social services providers and clients, and highway boosters should all be worried.
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So should anyone who cares about K-12 education. Though top lawmakers have signaled a willingness to protect schools from further damage, even as districts pick through the wreckage the block-grant funding bill is doing to their budgets, it’s hard to imagine that leaders will be able to keep their hands off the category that accounts for more than half of state spending.
And as they debate tax hikes at the Statehouse – including on insurance companies, cigarette smokers, alcohol buyers and shoppers across the board via a higher sales tax – the conservative Republicans who control the state should ask themselves:
Why would it be fair to have zeroed out state income taxes for 330,000 business owners and then ask the poor and middle class to make up the difference by paying higher sales tax on milk, bread and everything else? When will the robbery of highway funding for the general budget go so far as to turn the 2010 transportation plan into a joke – if it hasn’t already? What will they do if, as anticipated, another court decision obligates the state to follow its constitutional mandate and dramatically increase school funding?
And where in the budget-balancing efforts is the evidence of all the government waste and inefficiency they campaigned against?
The budget numbers, which only got more confusing last week with release of new revenue estimates, all lead to the same conclusion – that the governor and his conservative allies badly overdid it with the tax cuts, without delivering the promised economic boost, and now don’t have enough money coming in to pay the state’s bills. If the income tax cuts had not become law, lawmakers learned Thursday, the state would have $1 billion more in revenue.
At least some top lawmakers newly acknowledge problems with the 2012 tax cuts, and appear willing to re-examine and perhaps limit them. One key question is whether the House will be able to influence the budget, or be forced into blessing the version negotiated by a conference committee. Kansans also are due a true debate and vote on KanCare expansion, which would insure 150,000 Kansans and help hospitals.
Kansas voters should monitor their legislators closely in the coming days, and prepare to hold them accountable in the 2016 elections.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman