Martin Hawver: Get ready for budget mess

08/12/2014 8:08 PM

08/13/2014 12:34 PM

About the same time as the general election in November, the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group will announce the state’s official revenue estimate for the rest of this fiscal year and make its projection for the next fiscal year.

That projection is undoubtedly going to be that Kansas has barely enough money to make it through the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2015.

Legislative staffers have predicted a slim $29.4 million ending balance, but the group’s November figure is likely to be less. Because the state constitution prevents a below-zero budget balance, lawmakers are likely to have to quickly either raise money or cut spending – likely in the current fiscal year.

That means the governor is going to have to come up with spending cuts in an already anorectic state budget or raise money, and that money is likely going to come from you.

Now, this might not be necessary if Gov. Sam Brownback’s experiment with economics works – if every Kansan who saved money from the tax cuts spent that saved money on stuff that the state taxes. But that hasn’t happened yet. In fact, sales tax revenues have so far been below expectations.

This budget mess is going to be interesting. Cutting spending is always tough, except for the occasional robbing of the highway fund, which contractors already are girding to defend. Cutting money for K-12 education is going to be difficult, because the Kansas Supreme Court is already considering whether the state is spending enough money to provide children a suitable education.

So, what’s left? Squeezing a few bucks out of other agencies, or maybe thinking up a tax on something that a relatively small percentage of Kansans will feel. If they put a small sales tax on professional services, the lawyers and the accountants will march on the Statehouse.

This might just be the politically best couple of months that all those folks running for the Legislature and the Governor’s Office have. After the hard numbers are produced, they will have to do unpleasant things.

Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report. Reach him through www.hawvernews.com.

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