Kansas GOP leaders to Sebelius: Order cuts now

TOPEKA | The two top Republicans in the Kansas Legislature say Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius must immediately order cuts in state spending to make up for falling revenue.

House Speaker Melvin Neufeld and Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt urged Sebelius to use her executive power to go beyond asking state agencies to draft plans for 3 percent rollbacks. Schmidt questioned the governor's plan for agencies to prepare for, but not yet adopt, measures to hold down spending.

The Republican leaders argue that waiting until the 2009 legislative session starts in early January amplifies the pain for agencies, forcing them to make cuts with fewer days remaining in the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

“Every day that's delayed costs us in the future,” said Neufeld, an Ingalls Republican. “The governor really needs to step up.”

In June, Sebelius informed state agency officials it might be necessary to reduce spending 1 percent to 2 percent in the current fiscal year and to be prepared to trim as much as 5 percent the following year.

After the November election, Sebelius told agencies that planning should reflect a possible 3 percent cut this fiscal year.

Revenue analysts forecast the budget shortfall could surpass $130 million by June 2009. The deficit could escalate to a gloomy $1 billion in 2010. Those numbers got a bit worse according to preliminary collection figures for November.

The Department of Revenue said that as of Wednesday, tax collections were off $10.3 million from the revised estimate made earlier in the month. However, the figures do not include sales tax collections from holiday shopping, which got under way Friday and could close the shortfall.

“The budget problems the state's facing right now are severe,” said Schmidt, an Independence Republican. “The lesson that should have been learned from 2002, the last time we had a serious and immediate budget crisis, was that early action is better than late action.”

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said he didn't believe it necessary for the Legislature to pass a bill because the governor is “seriously intending” to make cuts in the current budget.

Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said the governor will begin a review next week of recommendations from Cabinet agencies of options for reducing costs. She said Sebelius hasn't ruled out formal action in the near term.

“The negative trends are hitting Kansas,” Corcoran said. “There are going to be lots of cuts.”