We know that balancing the state budget is no easy task this year, but simply raiding local government budgets to fill the state coffers isn’t playing fair.
It’s not like city and county governments in Kansas aren’t already sharing the state’s pain. Their revenues are being affected by many of the same factors as state revenues. Declines in sales tax revenue will affect both state and local governments. Declining property values actually will have a greater impact on local governments, which depend more heavily than the state on property tax revenues.
However, faced with a choice of increasing taxes or reducing services, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has proposed a budget that includes no tax increases but makes that choice even more difficult for local governments by chipping away at their resources in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
In the not-so-subtle category was a decision to simply withhold revenue from a special tax on liquor sales that already had been promised to and budgeted by cities across the state, including Lawrence. If the governor’s plan to cut those funds off at the beginning of the fiscal year in June is approved, Lawrence will lose an estimated $850,000 in funding this year.
That money is slated to provide funding for the Lawrence Police Department to place resource officers in local schools and for a wide variety of social service agencies in the community, groups like Ballard Community Center, the Boys & Girls Club and DCCCA.
Those agencies, as well as city and county government, also will be touched by a number of more subtle aspects of the state budget. For instance, the budget delays the opening of a 30-bed unit at Osawatomie State Hospital at the same time it reduces funding for community mental health centers. The Douglas County Jail already is the “agency” of last resort for far too many people in need of mental health treatment, but state budget policies may boost that number even further.
The budget also cuts off applications for in-home services for people with disabilities. Where will those people and others affected by the sagging economy go? To some of the same local social services agencies that are losing funds from the liquor tax.
This is the worst kind of unfunded mandate. Transferring tax revenue from the local level to the state level may solve the state’s problem, but it creates a whole new set of problems for local governments that already had challenges of their own.
That leaves the hardest choices at the feet of city and county officials. They can either hope charitable dollars take up the slack for lost revenue or consider tax increases that are no more popular when they propose them than when the governor does.
It doesn’t seem right. Hopefully, as they debate the governor’s proposal, state legislators will agree.