Proposing a state budget often is an opportunity for the Kansas governor to set visionary or lofty goals for the state.
Not this year. Instead of setting visionary budget priorities for the state, Gov. Mark Parkinson is being asked to present a survival strategy. In what is expected to be his one and only state budget proposal, Parkinson will be trying to figure out a way to meet the state’s basic obligations to public schools, higher education, Medicaid, corrections and other services while working within the constraint of a Legislature that continues to shun about any effort to increase state revenue by raising taxes or dropping tax exemptions.
State Budget Director Duane Goossen and his staff no doubt are working overtime this weekend to finish the budget that will be presented in conjunction with the governor’s State of the State message on Monday. They must deal not only with the budget year that starts next July but with a shortfall approaching $400 million in the current year’s budget. It will not be an easy challenge.
Parkinson already has said he will not endorse further cuts to public schools, higher education or state prisons. Those areas already have been cut to the bone. Because the state’s economy is unlikely to rebound quickly enough to maintain funding in those areas, Parkinson’s budget proposals almost certainly will include some tax proposals. He has said he will consider raising the state tax on cigarettes and eliminating selected tax exemptions.
Neither of those proposals has gotten favorable responses from legislative leaders who are firmly against any state tax increases. It’s hard to see how they will be able to stand by that conviction this year without doing serious damage to the state. Among other factors, funding for education must be maintained at a certain level to ensure the state can hang onto federal funding that currently is shoring up school budgets
Last week, two state senators — Democrat Laura Kelly of Topeka and Republican John Vratil of Overland Park — announced their plans to introduce legislation to create a “rainy day” fund for the state. Establishing such a fund may help the state in the future, but it won’t do much to ease the current budget negotiations. Nonetheless, Parkinson lauded their idea, saying “This bipartisan effort demonstrates the progress that can be made when politics are set aside for sound policies.”
The governor added, “I hope to see more of this type of leadership in the Legislature as we approach a session in which there are no more easy solutions to the challenges facing our state.”
We share that hope. Only by working together will the governor and legislators be able to find the best financial solutions for the state.