Projections show Laura Kelly, the next governor of Kansas, will likely have more than $900 million in additional revenue available to spend this year.
Kelly, a Democrat, has promised to boost funding for education, the state’s child welfare system and other key areas. But she’ll need the support of a Republican-controlled Legislature to turn her priorities into reality, and some GOP leaders have already expressed skepticism over the affordability of her plans.
A revenue forecast released Friday by state officials predicts Kansas will collect $905 million more than has been budgeted during the current fiscal year, which runs through June. Revenue will exceed expenses by more than 12 percent, the forecast says.
Still, without other budget changes, the amount of additional revenue generated will fall each year, providing the state will a smaller financial cushion each year. The forecast predicts that in the next fiscal year, the extra revenue available will fall to $722 million and $308 million in the year after that.
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The figures represent a dramatic turnaround from a few years ago, when tax collections continuously fell below estimates, leading to rounds of budget cuts. The state’s revenue collections began improving after lawmakers in 2017 largely reversed Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature income tax cuts.
“This is good news for our families and the state of Kansas. It reflects the bipartisan work of many lawmakers last year to end the Brownback experiment and put our state back on track,” Kelly said in a statement.
“As your governor, I will continue to work with leaders of both parties to keep our state on the road to recovery so we can invest in our schools, expand Medicaid and balance the budget without new taxes,” she said.
Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer, who remains in office until Kelly takes over in January, said the new revenue forecast puts Kansas in a better position to lower taxes, fund education and make other “critical investments” in the state.
The new revenue forecast comes just three days after Kelly’s election. Republican leaders immediately reacted to her victory by expressing skepticism that Kansas can afford her agenda.
Adding education funding to account for inflation — a move sought by the Kansas Supreme Court — could cost between $50 million and $100 million a year. Estimates vary on the state cost of Medicaid expansion, but it could require at least $26 million a year.
Kelly has also spoken often of reducing the sales tax on food. Kansas currently taxes food at the same rate as other goods — 6.5 percent — in addition to local sales taxes.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said Kelly had promised voters a “free lunch” on the campaign trail and vowed to hold Kelly to her pledge of no new taxes. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, predicted Kelly would be a liberal spender and said Republicans will act as a check on her proposals.
“When you give more to K-12, you starve all the other needs that state government has,” Wagle said.
Asked directly on Friday about the Republican skepticism, Kelly said she wants to work with Republicans and Democrats.
“By electing me, Kansans have also made it clear that they want bipartisanship,” Kelly said during an interview on Kansas City public radio station KCUR.
She said in the same interview that she is “very sure” Kansas will have the money available to fund the additional education spending, adding that “I fully expect the Legislature will cooperate” on adding the funding for inflation.
Despite the skepticism of Republican leaders, some Republicans have also worked closely with Kelly in the past.
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican who chairs the Senate’s budget committee and shares Kelly’s view that state government has been underfunded in several areas.
“I think we’re going to continue to be conservative on the budget and at the same time we also have areas that have been neglected for some years,” McGinn said.
Kelly will still have to wait months before acting on her proposals. She doesn’t become governor until Jan. 14 — the same day the Legislature reconvenes in Topeka.