Budget cuts could have been worse

Many Kansans who rely on state funding will find nothing to be thankful for in Gov. Mark Parkinson's latest round of budget cuts, the fifth time this fiscal-year budget has been downsized.

But the carnage involved in filling a $260 million revenue hole could have been much worse, especially if not for the availability of $89.5 million in federal stimulus dollars that had been earmarked for 2011.

Parkinson's administration exercised good judgment in trying to spread the pain around yet cut with precision, to mitigate the impact on Kansans' lives while the state economy struggles to recover its footing.

Parkinson also managed to keep education spending above 2006 budget levels, thereby protecting access to stimulus funds. The $2 million cut to higher education is an acknowledgment of how big a hit colleges and universities already sustained this year. Even considering the failure to deliver on $155.8 million due school districts for increased enrollments and other extra costs, Parkinson's K-12 cut of $36 million reflects his wish to cushion the blow for the state's schoolchildren.

Not that schools are likely to see the cuts as the best Parkinson could do. The latest reduction no doubt will fuel the worrisome effort by school districts to haul the state back into court.

Cutting highway maintenance funds by another $50 million will have consequences, too — though with less of a human impact than cuts forcing larger class sizes, less supervision of released inmates and longer waits for social services.

Parkinson's numbers came with a worthy warning to legislators and Kansans: "We cannot make it through this recession by cutting ourselves into an incurable position. When the Legislature returns in January, together we must look towards building a solution for the years ahead or we will permanently damage the foundation of our state."

He also called on Kansans to "dig deep" and aid the efforts of churches and charities during this difficult time.

With the 2010 legislative session just weeks away, Parkinson could have punted the job to lawmakers, as his predecessor did last year. Instead, Parkinson kept his promise to balance the budget and take the heat. That leadership was welcome.

For schools, universities and state agencies, the hard part now becomes living with even less. For lawmakers, it becomes charting a responsible path to a balanced 2011 budget.