Topeka — A state budget forecast estimates Kansas will collect $160 million more than previously expected this fiscal year.
A group of state staff, legislative researchers and university economists released its report Monday. It estimates that Kansas tax collections will exceed $5.9 billion for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2008.
That's 2.3 percent more than what had been estimated in April. The new estimate takes into account spending decisions by legislators during the 2007 session, including additional money for universities, disaster relief and tax cuts.
The revision puts the state's reserves at about $542 million when the fiscal year ends.
The group also issued the first forecast for fiscal year 2009, which pins tax collections at more than $6 billion for the first time in state history. Driving the forecast was continued strength in income tax collections, which have rebounded steadily since the recession in 2002 and 2003.
"We are reflecting a solid, growing economy for the state of Kansas," said budget director Duane Goossen.
But he said there was a note of caution in the projection for sales tax collection. Goossen said that after a dip in July collections, the state is collecting what it expected from sales taxes, but those numbers remain a bit soft. Thus, the estimate for the remainder of 2008 collections was reduced by 1.8 percent.
Alan Conroy, director of the Kansas Legislative Research Department, said the new revenue estimates increase the amount of money that the state expects have on hand. But he said they leave little, if any, room for discretionary spending for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius or legislators in 2008.
Conroy said it is estimated that Kansas already is committed to spending roughly $6.35 billion in 2009 in state general fund programs.
Factoring in all of the commitments made to public schools, universities and tax reduction, the state general fund would end fiscal year 2009 with less than the mandated 7.5 percent ending balance. To hit that mark, the state would need an additional $140 million by cutting spending, growth in existing tax collections or raising rates.
Goossen said the group anticipates higher prices for gasoline and natural gas could force Kansans to spend more of their discretionary funds on energy, but it was too difficult to make an accurate prediction.
Also, housing markets remain strong across the state, Goossen said, and the fallout from mortgage foreclosures and depressed housing prices has not been a factor in Kansas.