Martin Hawver: State budget is the top issue

07/23/2014 12:00 AM

07/22/2014 5:20 PM

Don’t look for it on any of the palm cards that you find wedged into your screen door. But when all the campaigning and voting are over, whoever makes it to the Kansas House next session is going to be faced with ugly choices about cutting spending or raising taxes.

And regardless of who winds up being governor, it just comes down to balancing the state budget. Though there are still renewable energy standards and guns and abortion and education, it is all about the budget.

Kansas had $434.6 million in the bank when the past fiscal year ended June 30, yet most of that balance is going to be eaten up this fiscal year. Whether that balance gets to zero next June or before is still a guessing game. But the state is going to need new tax revenues or it’s going to have to cut spending on virtually everything it spends money on, ranging from education to social services, to just keeping the agencies running.

So far, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis is saying that the next couple of years of scheduled state income tax reductions need to be halted. No, that’s not increasing taxes; it’s just not doing the cuts that are on schedule and nobody has claimed on tax forms yet.

Gov. Sam Brownback is quiet on what to do, if anything. Why talk about anything that is unpleasant until after the election? Until the budget busts, or he is officially notified of a projected ending balance of less than $100 million, nothing has to be done. He’s on board with that.

But whoever gets to be governor, it’s going to take votes in the Senate and the House to cut spending or raise taxes or find some way for the state to hold its fiscal breath.

Oh, and the Kansas Supreme Court, which has a school finance lawsuit to deal with, has only dealt with the cheap ($130 million) part – equalizing state aid for schools. It still has the big issue of deciding whether the state is spending enough on schools to produce students who will be smart enough to spur the Kansas economy and support themselves.

That’s the mess that will be facing the new Legislature, and those brand-new House members who make it to the Statehouse in January.

It sorta makes that “I’ll represent your values” stuff a little shaky.

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