Budget hole awaits winner

The candidates vying to be Kansas governor have lofty-sounding goals and campaign promises. But here’s the grim reality: Whoever wins Tuesday will spend the next several years trying to fill a budget hole.

And that hole keeps growing deeper.

October’s tax collections were $23 million less than estimated. So far this fiscal year, which began July 1, tax collections are about $46 million less than expected.

Brownback administration officials downplay the decline as a relatively small percentage of the entire state budget. But the state had almost zero margin for error.

Tax collections for the past fiscal year came in $338 million less than expected, which wiped out about half of the state’s ending balance reserves. Projections for this year are that the state will spend down the rest of the reserves, ending the year with only about $29 million.

But that assumes this year’s tax revenues meet the estimates – and they already are off by $46 million.

If revenue doesn’t drop any more – a big “if” – it might be possible for the state to make some budget adjustments and squeak through this fiscal year. But it is more likely that the next governor and Legislature will need to cut current-year spending.

Then the financial problems get even worse next year. Balancing the budget for fiscal year 2016 and restoring the statutorily required ending balance could require more than $700 million in additional tax revenue, budget cuts or a combination of both.

It could be painful and ugly.

The candidates didn’t mention that in their campaign ads.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee