Opinion Columns & Blogs

GOV. MARK PARKINSON: KANSAS PAST POINT OF CRIPPLING CUTS

Not since the Great Depression have Kansas families, workers and businesses faced the severity of financial troubles that we are seeing today. I am deeply concerned by the challenges and struggles being experienced by each and every Kansan.

This recession has also decimated state revenues. Kansas has never had two consecutive years of revenue declines; so it is incredible that we are now entering our fourth straight year of shortfalls. As a result, the Legislature and I have cut nearly a billion dollars from our $6 billion budget.

Last week, as shortfalls continued and our deficit grew, I had to make another $260 million in cuts to keep our budget in balance.

I entered this budget-cutting process with two principles. The first was that the solution we would reach would be a shared solution. Everyone must pull together; we must work toward ushering Kansas through this difficult time. The second was that we would make cuts that are undeniably painful, but not crippling. Unfortunately, this second principle can no longer be achieved.

We have passed the point of crippling cuts. The cuts I had to make this latest round are so severe that basic state functions are now in jeopardy. In some areas, such as education, it is clear that if revenues do not recover we will see permanent damage done to our most critical assets.

As a result of these cuts, children's classrooms will be overcrowded, creating an environment in which learning is a challenge for every student. Some districts will be forced to lay off teachers and close schools. The arts, athletics and extracurricular opportunities that make our schools and communities great may be a thing of the past.

This latest round of cuts means that our universities will have fewer professors, will offer fewer classes and will see higher tuition. Universities are critical investments in our future, but this investment is now in peril.

This latest round of cuts means that supervision of released prisoners will decrease, that waiting lists for services for the most disabled in our state will grow, and the quality of our roads will deteriorate.

As anyone with a business can tell you, when times are tough it is easier to find efficiencies and savings. But we are beyond that point now. We are now cutting basic services.

If I've consistently demonstrated one thing over the past seven months, it is that I am fiscally responsible. I am now personally accountable for more cuts in Kansas government than any single person in our state's history. This is not the legacy I ever thought would be attached to my name. I entered into public service to strengthen our schools, not fracture their very foundation.

Kansas can't do well if we don't invest in our public schools and universities. Kansas can't do well if we don't invest in our roads and infrastructure on which a strong economy relies. Kansas isn't safe if we're at the point where we are forced to continue to cut public safety. And Kansas just isn't Kansas if we're not willing to provide a minimal safety net to our most vulnerable citizens.

As I said Monday, we cannot make it through this recession by cutting ourselves into an incurable position. When the Legislature returns in January, together we must look toward building a solution for the years ahead, or else we will permanently damage the foundation of our state.

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