Topeka Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories, looking ahead to 2010.
When the 2009 legislative session started last January, state officials knew the Kansas economy was falling, but they didn’t know it would tank.
Two years of declining tax revenues — an unprecedented occurrence in Kansas history — have crippled the state budget, and fiscal experts say there will be two more years of decreasing tax collections.
Now with the 2010 legislative session set to start Jan. 11, lawmakers are facing even more deficits.
“The cuts we are making now are to basic services,” Gov. Mark Parkinson said.
Another ‘devastating’ deficit
In 2009, approximately $750 million was cut from a $6 billion state budget. The result has been shuttered prison facilities, layoffs and cuts in programs for the elderly and those with disabilities.
Funding for higher education has been cut back $106 million, or 13 percent, which brings its level back to what it was in 2006. Public schools lost $300 million in state funding to negate much of what the Legislature had previously increased under a court order. The cuts have prompted a group of schools to try to sue the state again.
Even after multiple rounds of cuts, Parkinson and the Legislature must still grapple with a more than $300 million deficit for the next fiscal year, which will start July 1.
After a recent daylong briefing on budget woes facing various state agencies, state Sen. Janis Lee, D-Kensington, said of the 2010 session, “It’s going to be devastating.”
A gloomy forecast
According to the Kansas Legislative Research Department, “a good deal of uncertainty remains for the Kansas economy and is underlined by very little projected growth in income and the expectation that unemployment will continue to increase during 2010.”
Much of the state’s problem has been because of the drop in revenue from personal state income tax. This has been fueled in part by high unemployment rates, especially in the all-important manufacturing sector. The Kansas unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in 2008, and more than 6 percent in 2009. It is expected to stay at that level or increase a little in 2010.
Kansas Department of Labor Secretary Jim Garner has watched the state jobless rate hit generational highs. “We are going through the worst recession in modern times. This knocked me on my heels,” he said.
No more budget cuts
Parkinson has said he doesn’t want to cut any more from education and prisons. He said he is looking at a possible tax increase or repealing some tax exemptions.
Parkinson is a Democrat facing a Legislature controlled by Republicans, most of whom oppose a tax increase. He was lieutenant governor and became governor in April after former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius was named by President Barack Obama to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
He has said he will not seek election despite pleas from Democrats, who see him as their only hope to stop presumptive Republican candidate U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback from becoming the next governor.
Despite presiding over record budget cuts, Parkinson said he remains optimistic.
“All that Kansans have to do is elect people that reflect the historical value that we’ve had of supporting, in a responsible way, our education system, our safety net and public safety. I have faith in the Kansas public.”