Topeka Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director apologized publicly Monday for supplying him with an incorrect figure that led the Republican governor to make erroneous claims about total state spending under his Democratic predecessor.
Budget Director Steve Anderson said in a statement that the mistake occurred in entering data on an internal administration spreadsheet. The information was passed along to Brownback’s office, and he used the material in recent presentations to groups about his budget and tax proposals.
The error showed total state spending peaking at $16 billion during the state’s 2010 fiscal year, under Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson. The actual spending for fiscal 2010 was about $14 billion.
Relying on the mistaken figure, Brownback used a Power Point chart to suggest total state spending had declined significantly since he took office in January 2011. While total spending is lower now than it was two years ago, it’s still 2.6 percent higher under the current, fiscal 2013 budget than it was under the fiscal 2010 budget.
“We should have caught the incorrect information but we did not,” Anderson said in his statement. “I apologize to Governor Brownback and the citizens of Kansas for this error.”
Anderson said the error has been rectified in the administration’s internal spreadsheet, and Brownback’s office produced an updated version of the governor’s Power Point presentation with the correct figure. Anderson stressed that the incorrect figure wasn’t included in the budget proposals that Brownback submitted to legislators last month.
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a conservative Hutchinson Republican and a Brownback ally, didn’t see the mistake as significant. He said legislators rely for information not only on the Budget Division but the Department of Revenue and their own research staff, so mistakes get caught.
“We’ve dealt with people giving us bad numbers in the past, and usually, the other two agencies end up figuring it out at some point,” Bruce said. “It’s up to the Legislature to do their due diligence and reconcile those issues.”
But House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said the latest mistake is part of a pattern in which the administration has provided misleading information to the public.
Earlier this month, the Department of Revenue released figures showing that Brownback’s proposals this year to overhaul the state’s personal income tax code would provide the biggest percentage reduction in income taxes to filers with adjusted gross incomes of $25,000 or less. The analysis excluded about 289,000 filers who don’t owe income taxes under state law, and most of them are in lowest-income category, because, the department said, the governor isn’t proposing any changes for them.
Also, the analysis didn’t account for the governor’s proposal to cancel a decrease in the sales tax scheduled for July.
Brownback’s critics also take exception to his repeated public statements that only 54 percent of the funding for the state’s public schools is spent on instruction, when state law sets a goal of 65 percent. The State Department of Education reports a figure of almost 62 percent to the federal government, and Brownback’s allies and critics are arguing over what should be included as spending in the classroom.
“I think there is the pattern from this administration of trying to make numbers fit whatever their end policy goal happens to be,” Davis said. “My level of trust in the information that’s being provided to us is certainly waning.”
Total state spending has more than doubled since fiscal 1993, when it was about $5.9 billion. It peaked at almost $14.7 billion in fiscal 2011, a budget year split between Parkinson’s administration and Brownback’s.
In fiscal 2012, which concluded June 30, spending declined about 2 percent, to just under $14.4 billion. Spending is expected to hit about $14.4 billion under the current budget.