There are tough budget decisions ahead when the Kansas Legislature returns to Topeka April 28 for the veto session. With the state facing an estimated $450 million to $500 million shortfall, many are saying, "Cut the budget." But what does that really mean?
Cut highway spending? Without new revenue, it's already at 1989 levels — 1970 levels when adjusted for inflation.
Cut education? State funding of higher education has been cut to 2006 levels. All of the Kansas Board of Regents institutions have reduced budgets and increased tuition heavily over the past few years. More than half of the budgets at Wichita State University, Kansas State University and the University of Kansas now come from student tuition. The rest of the universities will be there soon. WSU tuition rose 8.5 percent this school year.
How about cutting K-12 education? The House Appropriations Committee has passed a no-state-tax-increase budget that does not replace $172 million in federal stimulus money that is going away. However, it requires local school districts to increase property taxes to make up some of the difference.
According to the Kansas State Department of Education, these are some of the local mill levy increases that will occur under this bill: Andover, 5.14; Rose Hill, 12.67; Augusta, 10.66; Wichita, 6.07; Derby, 5.02; Haysville, 13.38; Valley Center, 7.11; Mulvane, 11.85; Clearwater, 8.80; Goddard, 7.96; Maize, 6.1; Renwick, 7.85; Cheney, 10.79.
With education at more than 60 percent of the state general fund, lawmakers are left with cutting Medicaid, prisons, public safety and social services. Cut them, and you will be creating problems that will cost us more in the future.
Fourteen local chambers of commerce in Kansas, concerned about the devastating effect on communities of further substantial cuts, recently wrote the governor and legislative leaders. Nine of the 14 are members of the Kansas Economic Progress Council. They said, "If revenues must be enhanced for basic government services, our chambers can support rational state revenue enhancements."
Apparently, Kansans agree. A SurveyUSA poll last month, sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12, showed 56 percent of Kansans would support a three-year, 1 cent sales tax to prevent further cuts for education, Medicaid, prisons, roads and social services. That's Gov. Mark Parkinson's plan.
In the same survey, 86 percent said they were somewhat or very concerned about cuts to education. The crosstabs on that survey indicate a whopping 91 percent of Kansas women are concerned about education cuts.
Another statewide survey, this one by anti-tobacco groups, shows the top four choices for dealing with the budget are assorted tax increases. Budget cuts were poorly supported. Only 12 percent urged cuts to public education. A mere 13 percent opted for cuts to social services.
Kansans generally oppose more budget cuts and support rational tax increases to get us out of the budget deficit. To simply rely on cuts will damage the institutions and systems needed to survive the Great Recession and pursue economic recovery.