The governor’s budget plan, released last week, includes some modest spending increases for fiscal year 2015 but mostly stays — or makes corrections in — the course set during last year’s two-year budget process.
Course corrections for the current fiscal year include $17.8 million to maintain base state aid for K-12 public schools at the approved level of $3,853 per pupil. Other additions for this year include funding to offset about half of the salary cuts approved last year for Kansas Board of Regents universities. The additional $10.9 million in higher education spending the governor has recommended over this year and next is welcome, but it falls significantly short of the $33 million cut from higher education last year.
For next year, Brownback recommended adding $429.8 million to the budget approved last year, but most of that — $362.9 million — will go to the Department of Corrections, whose FY 2015 budget was vetoed by Brownback last year. That represents a small increase from this year, but probably not enough to restore important inmate programs. The governor also recommends $20 million to keep K-12 per pupil funding at the same level as this year and $16.3 million for one of his pet projects, the Career and Technical Education Initiative.
The governor’s budget also includes $16.3 million to fund all-day kindergarten across the state, another initiative that Brownback has been touting. However, he offered no specific recommendation on how to fund that program, saying in his State of the State address that it would be “paid for out of a growing economy.”
There was an interesting contrast between the image of the Kansas economy presented in Brownback’s address and the one depicted in the Democratic response presented by House Minority Leader Paul Davis, who has announced his candidacy for governor. Brownback made reference to an average of 1,000 private sector jobs being created per month during his tenure, as well as top rankings for high employment and a low cost of living in the state. By contrast, Davis claimed that 16,000 fewer Kansans were working today than when Brownback took office, that “property taxes are skyrocketing” and that middle class families are struggling to make ends meet.
Both candidates undoubtedly have a set of figures that back up their claims, and it will be important between now and November for them to share those so that voters can evaluate the information that will be important to their voting decisions.
It also will be important to watch the progress of even the modest budget requests made by Brownback as they move through the Kansas Legislature. Making budget recommendations is the first step, but it will be interesting to see whether the governor can convince legislators to make those recommendations a reality.