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Archive for Friday, February 1, 2002

Earlier estimates

February 1, 2002

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Moving the schedule for state revenue estimates forward would give lawmakers more opportunity to consider and make thoughtful adjustments in the state budget.

A plan to alter the schedule for the semiannual revenue estimates that guide state budgeting in Kansas deserves serious consideration by the Kansas Legislature.

By statute, the Consensus Estimating Group currently meets in April and November to assess the state's financial status and issue a forecast of state revenue. The group is made up of staff members from the State Budget Division, Department of Revenue and Legislative Research Department, along with university economists.

The group's November estimate guides the preparation of the state budget and the deliberations of the Kansas Legislature, which convenes in January. If the November estimates hold true, budget negotiations may go relatively smoothly, but in difficult economic times, such as the state is experiencing now, the revenue picture and, therefore, the budget picture may change drastically between November and April.

That was the case last year when the estimating group met on April 4 and issued an estimate that indicated that the budget the Legislature had worked three months to formulate was $206 million higher than the expected revenue to fund it. Dealing with the effects of the late estimate not only extended the legislative session to almost record lengths but probably didn't contribute to thoughtful, orderly consideration of the budget options.

This year, Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, and House Speaker Kent Glasscock, R-Manhattan, are considering a plan to move the schedule for the estimating group up a month so that it meets in March and October, rather than April and November. It's not the first time the ideas of rescheduling the estimates has been raised, but the support of the leaders of both houses should mean that the proposal will get more than passing notice this year.

Moving the estimates up a month would give the Legislature a better basis for budget discussions and more time to make adjustments before adjournment. There's no reason for legislators to work three months on a budget only to learn just before they are scheduled to adjourn that major adjustments will be needed. Problems arise primarily when revenue falls below estimates; it would be a rare Legislature that had difficulty finding ways to spend additional funds at the end of the session.

Whether the estimates fluctuate upward or downward, having that information earlier in the process would be helpful. Perhaps there are drawbacks to the change. If so, they undoubtedly will be pointed out during legislative debate. But the advantage of having earlier figures to guide budget deliberations offers a strong argument in favor of moving the revenue estimates forward.

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