Politics & Government

Brownback hasn’t ‘ruled anything in or out’ on budget – or has he?

Gov. Sam Brownback refused to say Tuesday whether his office is weighing a controversial proposal to sell off the proceeds of the state’s tobacco settlement, telling reporters that he hasn’t “ruled anything in or out.” (Nov. 29, 2016)
Gov. Sam Brownback refused to say Tuesday whether his office is weighing a controversial proposal to sell off the proceeds of the state’s tobacco settlement, telling reporters that he hasn’t “ruled anything in or out.” (Nov. 29, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

Gov. Sam Brownback told reporters Tuesday that he hasn’t ruled anything out as part of his budget fix, but statements from his office seem to contradict that.

Brownback would not say whether his office is weighing a controversial proposal to sell off the state’s future proceeds from a tobacco settlement. “We haven’t ruled anything in or out,” he said when pressed about his plans to close the state’s $349 million budget gap.

But last week, his office said the governor had ruled out laying off state workers and that his budget proposal would make significant cuts unnecessary. A few hours after Brownback made his comment on Tuesday, his office released a statement reasserting that the governor does not plan to make any major cuts as part of his budget fix.

“As Governor Brownback reiterated today, there are steps to building a balanced budget,” Melika Willoughby, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “While he is still in the decision making process, the budget will not include layoffs, furloughs, or major cuts.”

It will be difficult to close the state’s $349 million budget gap for the current fiscal year without major cuts. The state faces an even bigger budget gap of $583 million the next year.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, warned GOP lawmakers in an e-mail last week that the governor could be pursuing a plan to sell off the right to future proceeds of the state’s legal settlement with tobacco companies as a way to get cash in the short term. That idea was considered by the governor’s office last session.

The money from the tobacco settlement is used to fund children’s programs. If the state does sell off part of its proceeds, a process known as securitization, it would forgo at least a portion of the annual payment over the next several decades.

Brownback plans to wait until January to unveil his plans to fix the budget gap, a move that has upset lawmakers who want him to move forward with cuts as soon as possible to lessen the impact.

This will be the first time a Kansas governor hasn’t addressed a projected shortfall ahead of the legislative session since 1987, when outgoing Gov. John Carlin did not make cuts during his final months in office. Gov. Mike Hayden signed cuts into law during his first month in office.

“This is just a genuine lack of leadership on his part,” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said about Brownback’s decision to wait for the legislative session. “Previous governors have stepped up and done what they needed to do to balance the budget before we’d go into a legislative session, and I think this is a clear indication that he’s looking to move on and do other things and leave our state in one hell of a mess.”

Brownback said Tuesday that he will roll his budget plan out in “due time and due course” and would not offer any details of his plan for fixing the shortfall. He did say his office has not met with any lawmakers on the issue and is discussing matters internally instead.

Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, the vice chairman of the Senate budget committee, told The Eagle last week that he had offered to meet with the governor about a budget fix. Denning said the offer was refused because he is running for Senate majority leader and Brownback does not want to be perceived as influencing leadership elections.

Some lawmakers have speculated that Brownback’s decision to delay addressing the budget shortfall could be tied to his possible consideration for a role in President-elect Trump’s administration. Brownback refused to answer Tuesday whether he was under consideration for a Cabinet post or an ambassadorship.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3

  Comments