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Archive for Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tough session awaits: Lawmakers must get budget in balance without harming state

January 10, 2010

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An old adage, “you don’t eat your seed corn,” is getting used a lot around the Capitol these days.

The Great Recession in Kansas has been marked by record decreases in tax revenues matched by record cuts, totaling nearly $1 billion from what was once a $6.4 billion state budget. That’s a 15 percent cut.

Waiting lists for basic social services have gotten longer, while some programs for poor and elderly people have been shut down.

School classrooms are more crowded, and programs to stop the revolving prison door have been eliminated. State funding to school districts and higher education has been rolled back to 2006 levels.

Even after five rounds of budget cuts and the addition of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds, the state still faces a revenue shortfall of $400 million merely to carry forward the current, sliced up budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The most recent slew of cuts included a 10 percent whack to Medicaid — the federal and state-funded program that provides health care for poor people.

Gov. Mark Parkinson, who has presided over much of the cutting, and some legislators have said enough is enough. If more cuts are enacted, the state will be eating its seed corn, harming the future of Kansas.

“We cannot make it through this recession by cutting ourselves into an incurable position,” Parkinson said. He said that when the 2010 legislative session starts Monday, “we must look toward building a solution for the years ahead or we will permanently damage the foundation of our state.”

After a recent forum during which community members met with members of the Douglas County legislative delegation, Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said the basic premise of what government is supposed to be is up in the air.

“The Legislature and Kansas citizenry really need to be engaged in a serious discussion of what are the responsibilities of government,” he said.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said to fix the revenue hole, the time has come for the Legislature to eliminate some tax exemptions, even if only temporarily, which are costing the state millions of dollars.

“I would hope that people understand when you become desperate those are things you have to do, and human services and education can only take so many hits,” Ballard said.

But passing a tax increase, especially in an election year, will be difficult, to say the least.

Key leaders in the Republican-dominated Legislature oppose tax increases, arguing that with a struggling economy, Kansans don’t need to pay more taxes.

“Every economist in the world tells you, you don’t raise taxes in a recession,” House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said recently.

One of the wild cards in this budget battle will be public school funding. Making up half the state budget, funding to schools has been cut approximately $300 million.

For school funding advocates, the cuts have been particularly disheartening because it took intervention by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2005 and 2006 to get the Legislature to increase funding and direct those dollars more equitably.

Because of the recent cuts, a coalition of school districts representing about one-third of Kansas students will try to reopen the school finance lawsuit before the state Supreme Court to get the Legislature to restore the lost funds.

Ballard, a veteran of 16 legislative sessions, said everyone in state government is going to have to bend.

“All of us working together and sacrificing a little bit, I think we can get over this hump. It’s not like we didn’t know this was coming. We just didn’t know just how bad it was going to be,” she said.

Comments

SettingTheRecordStraight 4 years, 11 months ago

Impose a tuition on wealthy families that send their kids to public schools, and provide corresponding property tax relief to single-person households and childless couples.

Yes, we all need to contribute, but we need to contribute in a more equitable manner.

KSManimal 4 years, 11 months ago

STRS,

Wow. That's a fairly left-wing statement for someone who's usually on the right.... :)

You're right, the tax system needs to be more equitable. That's what a lot of folks (myself included) mean when we talk of eliminating tax exemptions. For years, the legislature has handed out tax exemptions. I don't have numbers in front of me, but if memory serves me...the total $ in sales tax exemptions exceeds the total sales tax revenue.

Translation: if we just required everyone to pay their share in sales tax.....I think we'd be near a billion dollars more revenue each year. Yet, whenever anyone say's "eliminate tax exemptions" the anti-tax, anti-government crowd screams "you can't raise taxes in a recession" like it's the national anthem.

How exactly is having everyone share the sales tax "raising" taxes? And how is doing so somehow WORSE for the economy than the increasing UNEMPLOYMENT that results from deeper and deeper state budget cuts?

School districts are talking of teacher layoffs and school closings to make ends meet. Translation: more Kansans out of work, and thus even less revenue for the state. How does that help?

SettingTheRecordStraight 4 years, 11 months ago

Manimal,

I'm all for recipients of government "services" paying for 100% of those services, whether it's government schools, government arts programs, government health care, etc. Unfortunately, our cradle-to-grave nanny state has raised up generations of Americans who believe they're entitled to government handouts and a lifetime of relaxation. How to help the truly working poor without rewarding sloth is difficult, and I'm open to your suggestions on how to improve their lot without increasing the size of government or rasing taxes on the rest of us.

Regarding the tax relief afforded by several Kansas sales tax exemptions, I have yet to see a list of all industries which benefit. I'm generally in favor of reducing taxes for any reason at any time, however, and I stongly believe that allowing any tax relief to expire is the equivalent of a tax hike. Government is far too large and too involved in our lives.

Finally, what calculation are you using to determine that maintaining unnecessarily high levels of government employees benefits anyone other than labor unions and those with enough connections to get a government job?

ralphralph 4 years, 11 months ago

Yes, the problem is that the State is not taking away enough of our dwindling personal funds. If I could just send more money to Topeka, my car would fix itself and I could get that dental bridge I've been needing for a few years.

Reality check time has arrived under the newly and marvelously-expensively renovated green dome.
Strategy for tough times: spend less

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