Politics & Government

Shortfall for '11 state budget tops $500 million

TOPEKA — The state's projected budget shortfall edged past a half-billion dollars Friday — up about $60 million from earlier estimates.

The hole lawmakers have to fill for fiscal 2011, based on the governor's budget proposal presented in January, is $510 million.

The state's budget director, Duane Goossen, said the budget hole is larger, but not "catastrophically larger." "It is still a situation that can be managed," he said.

Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, used the new numbers to reiterate his position that the budget cannot be balanced on cuts alone.

"This hole is too big to fill with additional cuts. $510 million in cuts would decimate our schools, public safety programs and safety net services for our most vulnerable Kansas," he said in a written statement.

Parkinson, as well as many Democrats and some Republicans, has said that Kansas needs to raise some taxes — although what taxes would go up and how much has not been determined.

House Republican leadership has taken a firm stance that during tough economic times, the state should not dig deeper into citizens' pocketbooks.

Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the root cause of Kansas' economic woes is high unemployment.

"The question is, based upon that problem, is one of the largest tax increases on employers, small business owners and families going to get Kansans back to work?" he asked after the numbers were released.

Yoder's committee passed a budget that included no tax increases at the state level, although opponents have said the plan would result in higher local property taxes as schools turn to district residents to offset funding shortfalls.

Legislators will debate the budget when they return to the Capitol for a veto session April 28. The budget committees for the House and Senate will start reshaping their budget proposals next week to reflect the new numbers released by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group.

Typically, lawmakers would have passed an initial budget proposal before adjourning the main legislative session. This year they postponed the debate for the veto session to see what the April numbers would look like.

The revenue estimating group, which determines the numbers the state's budget is based on, meets each November and April. The last several estimates have included significant downward revisions — meaning deeper cuts — which lawmakers had feared could happen this time.

"The potential for a significant further reduction clearly was there," said Alan Conroy, director of Kansas Legislative Research. He is part of the estimating group.

The April estimates also showed that an additional $70 million will have to be eliminated from the current budget, which ends June 30.

A portion of that could be handled by delaying payments past July 1, or using some federal stimulus money earlier than initially planned, Conroy said.

Though individual and corporate tax receipts continue to lag, the numbers did include a little bit of good news: a slight uptick in total taxes collected after multiple years of shortfalls. That could indicate an economy that is improving slightly.

"That's good news going forward," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, in a written statement. "But in the short term, today's estimates confirm a half-billion-dollar budget gap that must be closed for the remainder of fiscal year 2010 and for 2011."

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said it was time for lawmakers to make the inevitable tough choices. Like the governor, Davis said that public education and services to the frail and elderly could not withstand further cuts.

"We must begin to look past 2011's bottom line and consider the long-term impact of our decisions," he said in a written statement. "More than ever, Democrats and Republicans need to put partisanship aside and come together to tackle this budget crisis."

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