State budget truth exposed

Gov. Sam Brownback and his top officials refused to acknowledge the reality of the state’s budget problems.
Gov. Sam Brownback and his top officials refused to acknowledge the reality of the state’s budget problems. AP

During this past election, Gov. Sam Brownback told Kansans that job growth would prevent budget shortfalls.

“The sun is shining in Kansas and don’t let anybody tell you any different,” he said in one campaign commercial.

His budget and tax officials downplayed growing revenue shortfalls, arguing that spending cuts wouldn’t be needed in the current fiscal year and that “efficiencies will take care of shortfalls next year.”

Yet less than a week after the election, new official revenue estimates exposed the ugly truth: The state needs to cut at least $280 million in planned spending before next July, and it could need an additional $436 million in spending reductions or revenue increases next fiscal year.

And that’s just to get to zero. Restoring the statutorily required ending balance next fiscal year could require an additional $450 million, putting the total spending cuts or revenue increases needed this fiscal year and next at more than $1.2 billion.

These estimates also don’t factor in the likelihood that the courts will rule again that the state is inadequately funding public schools.

Not only did Brownback and his top officials refuse to acknowledge the reality of the budget problems, they and their surrogates tried to discredit those who raised alarms.

Brownback claimed that the nation’s top credit agencies downgraded Kansas’ bond rating because they don’t like tax cuts. Others critics of the state’s finances were brushed off as partisans engaging in “sky is falling” hysteria.

Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, and Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, the respective chairmen of the Senate and House budget committees, argued a week before the election that it was false to claim that “the state budget is in trouble.”

Even when announcing the new revenue estimates Monday, state budget director Shawn Sullivan talked in euphemisms, saying that the state would cover the shortfall through efficiencies and “policy proposals.” He also declared that “the state of Kansas must continue to live within its means, just as families do every day.”

The difference, of course, is that families don’t voluntarily cut their income and then pretend everything will be OK.

Unlike the severe budget problems the state faced during the global financial crisis, these budget wounds were self-inflicted. Brownback recklessly cut taxes, promising it would act “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.”

When that didn’t happen, and while the state’s cash reserves rapidly disappeared, he assured voters that the budget was fine, that there was no reason for concern.

Now that the election is over, Kansans are learning the truth.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee