Editorial: On empty

A recent report on the condition of Kansas’ reserve fund is alarming and should be a call to action.

The state of Kansas’ fiscal woes continue to mount, with a new report showing the state is perilously close to running out of money.

This week, the Wichita Eagle reported that, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study, Kansas has just two days worth of reserves. Only Pennsylvania and Arkansas rank below Kansas, Pew’s report showed.

Kansas’ reserve balance at the end of June, the end of the 2016 fiscal year, was just $35 million, enough money to keep state government going for two days. Only Arkansas — which doesn’t report a reserve fund balance — had a smaller reserve fund than Kansas. New Hampshire is next on the list at $57 million, enough to keep that state going for 15 days.

In fact, the average state has 29.2 days’ worth of reserves to keep government operating in the event of a calamity. The Pew analysis is based on data from The Fiscal Survey of States, which is published each fall and spring by the National Association of State Budget Officers.

Worse, the Pew report shows Kansas is burning through its reserve balance faster than any state in the country. As recently as 2013, Kansas had a reserve balance equal to 42.2 days. That dropped to 23.2 days in 2014 and to just 4.2 days last year. Kansas’ decrease since 2013 is the biggest decrease in the country during that time.

Is it any coincidence that the depletion of reserves has steadily — and rapidly — declined since GOP lawmakers, at the urging of Gov. Sam Brownback, aggressively slashed state taxes? Brownback has steadfastly held to the notion that the tax cuts would grow the economy, bring business to Kansas and add jobs. That hasn’t happened. The state’s economy is among the nation’s most anemic, and month after month state projections fall short. State tax collections have been below expectations 10 times in the past 12 months.

But if anyone thinks Brownback or his staff is having second thoughts about the tax policies, think again. When asked about the Pew study by The Eagle, Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley blamed declines in the oil and agriculture industries.

“(The Pew report) does not reflect how the administration has saved KPERS from bankruptcy, invested in roads resulting in top national rankings, and invested more in K-12 education than ever before, all while returning money to pockets of hardworking Kansans,” Hawley said.

You can’t blame Hawley for trying to make lemonade out of lemons, but for Kansas’ sake, let’s hope someone in state government is paying attention to the dwindling reserves. The way tax collections have gone, it’s plausible the state could run out of money before the end of the year.