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KS: Big GOP majority faces budget challenges

By   /   November 7, 2012  /   No Comments

By Gene Meyer | Kansas Reporter

FIRST TEST: Newly elected budget hawks face a budget where they may need to make cuts or raise taxes.

OVERLAND PARK — Kansas voters elected the state’s biggest crop of avowed budget hawks ever to the next state Legislature on Tuesday.

And Kansas budget forecasters served up the first big potential test of those new budget cutters’ fiscal conservative mettle. Some popular state spending programs may experience funding cuts. No one is saying which ones or how much.

The Kansas Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, the group of state budget and revenue executives and three university economists that compiles Kansas’ official budget forecasts, said late Tuesday afternoon that Kansas’ projected $5.7 billion tax revenue in 2014  appeared likely to fall $327 million short of projected needs.

Tax cuts passed last year — eliminating most state income taxes for 190,000 business owners and cutting the state’s top rate on other income taxes more than 20 percent — account for part of  the drop. So also does a still sluggish economy, said Rainey Gilliland, acting Kansas Legislative Research Department director, who is a member of the consensus revenue estimating group.

“We’re still growing out of the Great Recession; however, that growth remains slow,” Gilliland said.

Kansas’ Constitution requires legislators to pass balanced budgets annually. That means the 92 Republican and 33 Democratic members of the state House and the 32 Republicans and eight Democrats in the state Senate who will convene Jan. 14 must agree on some combination of spending cuts or tax increases to plug the projected $327 million hole.

Tax increases so far are everyone’s least favored choice.

The total 124 Republicans elected to the House and Senate are the largest number of Republicans ever elected to the Legislature in at least a half century. Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP leaders campaigned for the group, most of whom support Brownback’s aims to restrain government growth and reduce taxes in the state.

“We’re back and moving forward as a state,” Brownback told Republicans in victory speeches Tuesday night.

Kansas Budget Director Steve Anderson earlier this year asked state agencies to begin preparing their 2014 budget requests assuming that 10 percent fewer funds would be available. That request was a planning tool to help agencies prepare for reduced help from Washington or other revenue reductions, Anderson said at the time

Anderson calculated Tuesday that cutting $327 million would equate to a 5.3 percent funding reduction, the Topeka Capitol Journal reported.

So what gets chopped?  Brownback, who will submit the first budget proposal that legislators will see for dealing with the $327 million, isn’t saying.

“The governor will submit a budget in January that will be balanced and that will preserve funding for core government functions — education, Medicaid and public safety,” said Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the administration’s communications director.

What could be chopped? Many things and they wouldn’t be painful, said Derrick Sontag, Kansas director of Americans For Prosperity, which advocates for lower taxes and government efficiency. (He also is married to Jones-Sontag.)

“Realistically, everyone knows that some spending reductions were coming, because it will take a year or more for the revenue benefits of lower taxes to take effect,” Sontag said. “What the election of fiscal conservatives does is to give them more power to practice what they preach.”

Contact Gene Meyer at gene.meyer@kansaswatchdog.org.

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