I thought it might be helpful to explain what has been done to balance the state budget, and Gov. Mark Parkinson's plan for keeping it balanced moving forward.
Two years ago, the Legislature passed a state budget of $6.4 billion for fiscal year 2009. By January 2009 (which was halfway through the fiscal year), it was clear that there wasn't going to be enough revenue to make that budget work. As a result, then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the Legislature cut $340 million from the 2009 budget.
In late April, Parkinson was sworn in. With just a few weeks left in the 2009 session, Parkinson and the Legislature worked together to pass a 2010 budget with another $360 million in cuts.
Unfortunately, it became clear that even that lower number wouldn't work. So by November we had cut the last $260 million.
Today the state budget sits at about $5.4 billion — down $1 billion from last year.
Unfortunately, even after all these cuts, the fiscal 2011 budget, which we are now working on, will come up short about $400 million if we don't find new revenue — even if we keep services at drastically reduced levels.
Last Monday the governor said that he has cut more money out of the state budget than any Kansas governor — ever. So when he says there's no more to cut, he means it.
I agree with the governor. We have cut beyond the point of waste; we are now cutting deeply into the foundation of critical programs.
The governor's plan to come up with the $400 million is to take the cigarette and tobacco tax from 79 cents a pack and raise it to the national average of $1.34, and to raise our sales tax by 1 cent for a temporary period of 36 months.
If we take these two steps, Kansas still will remain a low-tax, business-friendly state. The Tax Foundation rates each state every year for its combined state and local tax burden. Its findings for 2009 are the same as its findings for most prior years — Kansas is below the national average for taxes that we pay.
So by temporarily raising the sales tax, we can balance the budget, protect safety-net programs and remain a low-tax state. By raising the tobacco tax, we can reduce teen smoking and ease the budget situation — that's a win-win.
The alternative to coming up with this $400 million is to implement an impossible round of cuts that would do permanent damage to those things that make Kansas a great place to live.
This session, the Legislature must make wise decisions that help us get through today and plan for tomorrow. If we choose to cut state programs, we will do permanent damage to the assets we have worked so hard to build in this state.
If we choose to adopt the governor's budget proposal, we can protect these assets, which will help us attract jobs and build for the future.
We know we will come out of this recession, but the question is: Will we come out of it needing to make up lost ground, or do we come out of it moving forward? The governor's budget proposal moves us forward.