Predictions that the Kansas Legislature was overzealous in spending money and cutting taxes appear to be coming true.
Gov. Bill Graves appears to be firing a warning shot to the Kansas Legislature.
This week, Graves ordered a 1 percent cut in spending from the state's general fund for the current fiscal year. That will mean a $44 million cut in spending by all agencies that get money from that fund. Just over half of that cut will come in the Department of Education's budget.
State officials served notice several weeks ago that agencies should plan on lean budgets for next fiscal year, but they hadn't planned on cuts in the current year. Although they insist there is no budget crisis, the governor and his budget director say the current cuts are a prudent move because state tax revenue has fallen short of predictions. In fact, the state ended the last fiscal year on June 30 with $73.4 million less than it expected in the general fund.
The governor and his staff blame that shortfall on an overly optimistic legislature, which approved tax cuts and additional funding that are in danger of producing an unbalanced state budget. The governor, of course, also signed onto those measures, but he's now sending an unmistakable message to the Legislature: The spending has got to stop; we have to tighten our belts.
It seems unlikely that additional tax cuts will be approved, but it seems equally unlikely that previous tax cuts will be rescinded. That means spending will have to be stable or reduced to meet the budget. The two largest spending programs approved in the last legislative session were a major new transportation plan and a large funding package to encourage a new higher education governance structure that united state universities, community colleges and vocational-technical schools under the Kansas Board of Regents umbrella.
Because relatively little of the Kansas Department of Transportation's budget comes from the state general fund, money for highways and airport improvements may be safe. Funding increases that were promised to universities and community colleges, however, may be in jeopardy. It's also likely to be a difficult year for any increased funding for K-12 education in the state.
The state's tight budget situation is real, and the governor's reaction to it is reasonable. The 1 percent cut serves two purposes for the governor. It is a prudent financial move that also sends a political message that legislators need to prepare for a lean beginning to the next century.