Reality check on Gov. Brownback's oh-so-rosy outlook
The Kansas City Star
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback called a news conference last week to announce that worries over his upcoming draconian tax cuts are greatly exaggerated, and the state’s finances are in fine shape.
Since taking office in 2011, his administration has erased a projected $500 million deficit, the governor said. Cash reserves have grown from $876 to a healthy $466 million.
“That’s the great story I’m asking (reporters) to look into and write,” he said.
Well, some did. And here’s the short version.
Kansas’ financial picture wasn’t as dire when Brownback took over as he portrays. His predecessor, Democrat Mark Parkinson, staunched the bleeding by signing into law a three-year, one-cent sales tax increase. It raises $300 million or more annually.
Brownback and the Legislature cut more than $100 million from elementary and secondary school funding in 2011, and they reduced the amount of state aid allotted per pupil even further this session. School districts next year will receive $174 less per student than when Brownback took office, according to the Kansas Education Policy Report.
Also, Brownback authorized taking $200 million in transportation funds to pay for increased costs in the Medicaid program.
Those factors go a long way toward explaining how his administration balanced the budget and built a surplus.
But prosperity in Kansas is built on a shaky foundation.
Three-fifths of 1 percent of the 1-cent sales tax increase is set to expire on July 1 of next year. Unless lawmakers renew it, the state will lose $180 million in revenues. The remaining two-fifths of 1 percent will no longer be general fund revenue, but will be designated for the state highway fund.
The effects of the controversial income tax cuts passed this year will begin appearing soon after the sales tax goes away. The Kansas Legislative Research Department projects a budget deficit of $242 million beginning in 2014 and growing to close to $2.5 billion in the 2018 fiscal year.
That apocalyptic forecast could be offset by the growth in jobs and spending that Brownback and his supporters predict. But the Legislative Research Department calculates the state would have to add more than 400,000 jobs at the mean income of $39,290 to compensate for lost revenue when the tax cuts kick in.
Also, there is a possibility the courts could order Kansas to put more money into its school funding formula. And the U.S. Justice Department is examining whether the state is violating federal civil rights laws by denying services to disabled citizens.
Brownback’s boastings were timed to boost the chances of supporters running for legislative seats in the Aug. 7 primary.
But his deceptively rosy forecast makes a better case for candidates who are willing to stand up to the governor and his misguided agenda.