State budget woes top 2009 look ahead
House Republicans introduce legislative agenda at 11:30 a.m.
House and Senate convene at 2 p.m.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius delivers State of the State address at 7 p.m. in the House chamber.
A toll-free hot line run by the Legislative Reference Desk of the State Library is available to access information on legislation or other areas of state government. The number is (800) 432-3924.
Topeka Lawmakers start the 2009 legislative session on Monday during a budget crisis that gets worse every day.
In November, state budget experts projected that the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, would have a $141 million deficit.
By the end of December, that shortfall grew to $186 million because of declining tax revenue.
“That’s how quickly the economic landscape changed,” noted House Speaker-elect Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson.
And that’s not even taking into account the state spending plan for the next fiscal year. Work on that will take up most of the Legislature’s time, and estimates show that budget could be nearly $1 billion in the red.
“There is going to be some pain all the way around,” said O’Neal. “Obviously, everything is on the table.”
That means there could be significant cuts to public schools, higher education and social services — the main funding priorities of state government.
And it means there could be delays of tax cuts that have been approved in recent years.
The scenario is seen in most states around the country as legislatures grapple with the impact of the national recession.
The budget debate
On Monday, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will give the State of the State address and then on Tuesday release her budget recommendations, which she has said will include a plan to balance the current budget and the next one.
Leading up to the release, Sebelius has given few details of what she intends to do.
In recent weeks, her budget office has recommended a $114.4 million cut to higher education; the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services has reduced funding to some programs that will affect mental health centers and Kansans with disabilities; a juvenile correctional facility in Atchison was shut down; and the Kansas Department of Corrections is shutting down boot camp correctional facilities in Labette County.
Last month, the state was forced to approve $250 million in inter-government loans in order to pay schools their monthly allotment.
Sebelius has said she wants to protect public school funding, but a previously approved built-in increase of $142 million for the next fiscal year will probably not happen.
As far as increasing taxes to help bridge the shortfall, Sebelius and legislative leaders have said they would oppose that because it would hurt Kansas families. Sebelius, however, does support an increase in the cigarette tax, saying it would provide revenue for health care and deter young smokers.
While the budget looks bad, some see this as an opportunity to streamline government.
The Legislature has ordered a slew of audits that are aimed at identifying ways to reduce spending.
“When money is tight, one of the silver linings is that it forces a rethinking of how things are done,” said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence.
One audit will look at whether state universities could provide education more efficiently, and another would determine whether there are state programs that have outlived their usefulness and could be eliminated.
Many of these audits will be completed in mid-March as the Legislature gets down to the nitty-gritty budget negotiations. Schmidt said it’s possible the reports’ findings could have an impact on the budget.