Kansas reported Monday that its tax collections last month were slightly better than expected, good news for Republican Gov. Sam Brownback after legislators approved a plan dumping most of the work of balancing the budget into his lap.
The Department of Revenue said the state collected $584.3 million in taxes in April, when the official projection was $581.7 million. The surplus was $2.6 million, or 0.5 percent.
The collections were pegged to a new, more pessimistic fiscal forecast issued less than three weeks ago. State officials and university economists last month slashed projected revenues through June 2017 by a total of $348 million.
The gloomier projections immediately left the state with projected shortfalls totaling more than $290 million in its current budget and the one for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The plan approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature early Monday morning gives Brownback broad discretion to cut spending in the state's $16 billion budget for the next fiscal year but tells him that he can't touch aid to public schools.
Still, the latest revenue report showed sales tax collections rebounding modestly after being a source of concern for state officials, and personal income tax collections appeared to be stable. Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan hesitated to see those developments as parts of a long-term trend but acknowledged they are helpful in dealing with the budget.
"It's a good sign for the health of the economy," Jordan said during an interview. "We hope that's a turnaround."
Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since the GOP lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging in an effort to stimulate the economy. The push to have the term-limited governor make the tough decisions about the budget reflects some lawmakers' frustration that he won't back away from key cuts.
With the GOP's supermajorities divided in both chambers, the measure passed the House, 63-59, and the Senate, 22-18. The governor's chief spokeswoman has said Brownback believes he can sign the legislation.
The budget-balancing plan assumes that the conservative governor follows through on plans to delay major highway projects and cut higher education spending. It also anticipates him making $92 million in further cuts during the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, that could touch state Medicaid health coverage for the poor and disabled and other social services.
The state would delay $96 million in contributions to public employee pensions due this spring. But the bill blocks Brownback from reducing aid to public schools, now more than $4 billion a year — a key selling point as GOP leaders corralled votes for it.
Legislative critics argued that the plan gives Brownback too much discretion and relies too much on year-to-year patches, rather than addressing the state's underlying imbalance between spending and revenues. And during Monday's debates on the budget-balancing plan, several lawmakers said they believe the state is due to face more shortfalls over the next few years.
Even with April's surplus, tax collections have fallen short of expectations 10 of the past 12 months. The report Monday was the first one since November — when the previous fiscal forecast was issued — to show a positive result.
"We're just going to continue to bleed and bleed and bleed," said Rep. Sydney Carlin, a Manhattan Democrat and a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Since the current fiscal year began, the state has collected $4.7 billion in tax revenues, again about $2.6 million more than anticipated.
Retail sales tax collections were $1.9 billion through April, about $4.6 million ahead of expectations. Personal income tax collections were $1.84 billion, on target, and running about 2.7 percent ahead of the previous fiscal year.
The new forecast predicts that the state will collect a total of $5.87 billion in taxes during the current fiscal year and that those collections will grow 3 percent, to $6.04 billion, during the next fiscal year.