TOPEKA — A tight, $14.1 billion budget outlined Thursday by Gov. Sam Brownback would keep state funding flat for Kansas public schools and build up cash reserves in an attempt to promote the state’s long-term financial health.
Brownback’s spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 does increase the state tax dollars set aside for social services as the administration prepares to overhaul the Medicaid program, which provides health coverage for the needy. However, it also quickly drew criticism because it would cut support for children’s programs from the state’s share of past legal settlements with tobacco companies.
His proposed budget would reopen a corrections camp in Oswego in southeastern Kansas to ease crowding in the state’s prisons, and it would use $10 million in revenues generated by new state-owned casinos to pay off the bonds that financed an underground parking garage completed at the Statehouse in 2004.
Brownback’s recommendations don’t include a general pay raise for state government workers.
Release of the budget followed Brownback’s promise Wednesday night in his State of the State address to seek $465 million in cash reserves at the end of June 2013, as a financial cushion. The governor also outlined a sweeping proposal to rewrite the state’s individual income tax code, cutting rates and helping business operators whose earnings are taxed as personal income.
“The budget’s all about fiscal stability,” Brownback’s budget director, Steve Anderson, said before briefing lawmakers. “The tax plan is all about economic prosperity, and the two are married.”
The budget plan calls for spending a little less than $6.1 billion in general state revenues on government programs, compared to a little more than $6.1 billion under the current budget. The difference is about $39 million, or a little less than 1 percent.
The overall budget, including the portion financed with federal funds, would drop 4.1 percent, or $597 million, from the current budget’s estimated total of $14.7 billion. The drop proposed by Brownback partly reflects a decline in federal transportation and disaster relief funds.
But Brownback’s administration also expects federal funds to decrease in the future as the federal government wrestles with its own financial problems. Anderson told reporters that the state’s commitment of its tax dollars to social services is rising — by about 2.5 percent overall, to nearly $1.6 billion — because the federal government is decreasing its share of payments for states’ Medicaid programs.
Kansas doesn’t have a separate “rainy day” fund, as other states do, and uses its reserves as a cushion for emergencies and against bad economic times.
As for the entire budget, “I didn’t really see anything that was something that’s going to be totally unpalatable,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, chairwoman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Some educators and Democratic legislators contend that with the state’s finances improving it ought to reverse some of the cuts.
“To say that all school districts would get no less than what they’ve gotten before doesn’t really answer the question of, what about those districts that need more money?” said Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Lawrence Democrat who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.
Brownback’s proposed budget allocates about $39 million in tobacco settlement funds to programs such as early childhood education. That’s down 32 percent from the nearly $58 million in this year’s budget.
The governor’s budget assumes only $40 million in tobacco funds in the next fiscal year, and the administration says it reflects uncertainties about the amount and timing of their arrival.
But a state advisory group that monitors the spending projected that Kansas will receive $56 million in tobacco funds during the next fiscal year. And Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said the change could hurt thousands of children.
“There’s no justification,” she said.