Gov. Sam Brownback said that it wasn’t until after the election last month that he learned Kansas would face a shortfall this fiscal year.
“I knew what the public knew,” Brownback told reporters after meeting with the State Finance Council last week.
He should have talked to Duane Goossen, perhaps Kansas’ leading expert on the budget, who has been sounding the alarm for months about enormous budget deficits.
Goossen, 59, was all over the state in the months leading up to the election talking about it: Pratt, McPherson, Newton, Wichita, Lawrence, Johnson County.
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He traveled on his own dime because he thought Kansans should have a clear picture of what the next governor would face as a result of Brownback’s massive tax cuts.
“I’ve given my career to working on those programs,” Goossen said.
A former 14-year GOP lawmaker, Goossen backed Democrat Paul Davis for governor. But I’ve covered Goossen since 1989. Few public officials had as much bipartisan respect. He worked as budget director for both Republican and Democratic governors and was known for shooting as straight as a yardstick.
He told his audiences that the state was headed toward a deficit this year. Next year? Look out.
“We’re badly out of balance right now, and there is not enough to cover that imbalance,” Goossen said in Chanute.
In October, Brownback dismissed concerns that folks such as Goossen raised.
“They’re just trying to paint a Chicken Little sky-is-falling situation, which is not true,” Brownback said late in the campaign. “It’s a bunch of lies.”
Lies? Brownback now admits that tax increases are on the table.
Last week, Goossen said the state must cut $280 million just to end the current fiscal year with a zero balance even though state law requires a cushion. That’s a cut of nearly 5 percent in the state’s general fund. Next year, Brownback and lawmakers have to cut an additional $430 million to wind up at zero again.
Public schools are destined to take a hit, Goossen said. Even if they don’t, schools aren’t moving forward. “World-class” status? No one’s talking about it, he said.
Yes, the election is over. But Brownback has raised new questions: What did he know about the budget and when did he know it? Was he obligated to tell voters?
His response to reporters doesn’t fly.
“He didn’t give Kansans a straight story,” Goossen said.
Steve Kraske writes for the Kansas City Star.