Politics & Government

Brownback plans to make cuts before signing Kansas budget bill

Gov. Sam Brownback said Wednesday that he will have to issue cuts to the state’s budget before he signs the budget bill narrowly passed by lawmakers last week.
Gov. Sam Brownback said Wednesday that he will have to issue cuts to the state’s budget before he signs the budget bill narrowly passed by lawmakers last week. The Wichita Eagle

Gov. Sam Brownback plans to make budget cuts before he signs the budget bill narrowly passed by lawmakers last week.

He has until May 19 to act on the bill. He indicated Wednesday that he will cut spending across the board – in an action known as allotments – before signing SB 249, which requires nearly $200 million in cuts to balance. The bill also empowers the state to delay a $96 million payment to the pension system until 2018.

“The Kansas Constitution requires a balanced budget,” Brownback said. “It’s our assessment that you need to do the allotments before the signing of the budget.”

Brownback signed an earlier version of the budget in March and has the authority to make cuts to ensure it balances.

When lawmakers approved the bill a little after 3 a.m. on May 2, they thought the state would have a cash balance of $81 million at the end of June 2017 if the governor made expected cuts to higher education and state agencies.

That estimate was based on proposals Brownback had presented to the Legislature earlier. The governor said Wednesday that actual cuts could differ.

“We were laying out ‘here’s a scenario, here’s a range of scenarios,’ ” he said, explaining that his cuts may not necessarily match the projections that lawmakers saw.

The Legislature effectively ceded its discretion about what to cut to the governor when it passed the bill. Opponents criticized that as an abdication of duty, but legislative leaders framed it as a political necessity.

Education

The budget bill includes a provision to restrict the governor from cutting K-12 education. Some education advocates raised concern on social media Wednesday that if Brownback makes the cuts before signing the bill he would not face that restriction.

Asked about that, Brownback’s office replied, “The Governor has no plans to allot K-12 funding.”

Brownback said he has not decided whether to approve a change that would make future cuts to higher-education funding proportional to universities’ total budgets.

Currently, cuts apply across the board and are proportional to each university’s state aid.

The policy change would save the state’s smaller universities money, but both the University of Kansas and Kansas State University would lose more – $1 million more each under a 3 percent cut to higher ed – because they receive more federal and private grant money than other universities.

The heads of both universities asked Brownback to veto the bill, saying the change unfairly penalizes them for being successful research universities.

Brownback said he has discussed the issue with officials from KU, K-State and the Board of Regents.

He said he was evaluating the provision but noted that “the budget passed by a narrow set of votes, and these provisions for some of the members were quite significant.”

Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, who crafted the provision, has Pittsburg State University in his district. He has contended that the larger universities can more easily withstand cuts.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3

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