Gov. Sam Brownback’s office says it won’t release budget documents outlining the effects of a 5 percent cut for state agencies and universities.
The Kansas Board of Regents, on the other hand, plans to release its documents and those for the six Regents universities, including Wichita State University, under the Kansas Open Records Act.
Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, asked agencies and universities last month to prepare documents showing what cuts they would make if they experience a 5 percent drop in state aid. Most of those documents were submitted to the governor’s office last week.
Brownback’s spokeswoman said Friday that the governor’s office and cabinet agencies would not release the records, citing an exemption in the Kansas Open Records Act that allows public agencies to not disclose policy drafts.
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“The budget goes through several iterations between September, when agencies submit draft budgets, and January, when the Governor releases his budget recommendations to the Legislature,” Eileen Hawley, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
A memo from the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Research Department this week shows the state is on pace to have a $20 million budget hole by the end of the fiscal year in June, which indicates budget cuts are likely for some agencies.
The Eagle filed an open records request with the governor’s office Thursday for the budget documents. It also filed requests with the Board of Regents, Wichita State University and the Kansas Department of Transportation.
The governor’s office does not plan to release any budget documents until January, Hawley said.
“Our past and current practice is that draft budget documents are pre-decisional and therefore considered exempt from KORA until the Governor releases his budget recommendations to the Legislature in January,” Hawley said. “Director Sullivan recently communicated this to Cabinet agencies.”
However, Breeze Richardson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Board of Regents, said the board plans to release the documents for itself and the individual universities.
“When that document leaves our office for delivery to the governor’s office … that is considered a public document by this office, which you can and shall have,” Richardson said.
The board’s budget document has not been finalized, she said, but will be released when it is. Richardson said the board has the documents for the individual universities already and will release them to The Eagle in the near future.
“We take open records and open meeting very seriously,” Richardson said.
‘Disservice to the citizens’
Doug Anstaett, executive director for the Kansas Press Association, criticized Brownback’s office for choosing not to disclose the records.
“At least the governor’s consistent. Every time he has a choice between opening records and closing them, he chooses closing them,” Anstaett said. “These are matters of huge public interest and for the governor to close the curtains on this kind of information is a disservice to the citizens of Kansas.”
Even if the exemption cited by the governor’s office applies, Brownback’s administration has discretion in whether to use it, he said.
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the Senate budget committee, said it has been common practice in the past for agencies’ preliminary budget documents to be publicly available.
She said Brownback’s unwillingness to disclose the documents this year is likely tied to the upcoming election. “He’s scrambling right now to do everything he can to protect the few allies he has left in the Legislature,” she said.