Topeka Gov. Mark Parkinson said Thursday he will not approve any more cuts to public schools or higher education and that he is considering a tax increase to bridge the next revenue shortfall.
“My view is that we have cut education, K (kindergarten) through 12 and regents, as far we can cut without jeopardizing the quality of the education that we provide,” Parkinson said in an interview with the Lawrence Journal-World.
Even after five rounds of budget cuts that have affected nearly every area of state government and services, Parkinson said Kansas will still face a gap of about $300 million when the 2010 legislative session starts.
To make that up, he said, will require more federal funds, an upturn in tax revenues, new taxes or eliminating some current sales tax exemptions.
“We’re analyzing all of them, and they are all on the table right now. The one thing that is not on the table is to cut education any more,” he said.
Public schools have lost $300 million in state funding, and higher education has lost $106 million during the current budget crisis.
Higher education officials appeared to have been briefed earlier on Parkinson’s position.
“We can be fortunate we have a governor who we can all say is clearly standing behind higher education,” Kansas Board of Regents Chair Jill Docking said at the regents meeting.
Parkinson said he is also considering an increase in the state cigarette tax because it would provide more revenue and reduce teen smoking.
The state tax on cigarettes in Kansas is 79 cents per pack, while the average state cigarette tax is $1.34. But opponents of increasing the Kansas tax say many smokers will travel to Missouri to buy cigarettes to take advantage of the second lowest tax in the nation — 17 cents per pack.
Parkinson called Missouri’s low cigarette tax “archaic.” He added, “We should not allow Missouri’s very poor public policy to impact the decisions that we make.”
He also said additional cuts to the state prison system and Medicaid services to elderly and disabled people are out of the question.
“Additional cuts to Corrections will result in us having to release prisoners and, obviously, we are not going to do that,” he said.
On higher education, Parkinson said he fears cuts to Kansas University may hurt efforts by the school to secure national designation for its cancer center.
Parkinson, a Democrat, will face opposition to any kind of tax increase from the Republican-dominated Legislature.
Despite the budget crisis, Parkinson said he is optimistic.
“We have survived the greatest economic challenge that we have faced since the Great Depression. We’re now at a time when the economy is starting to turn and we can start to recover from this and, hopefully, replenish some of these cuts that have been made,” he said.