‘Buried treasure’ claims debunked

This year, Kansas elected officials have cut the state budget four times because of dwindling revenues.

But the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy says the state has buried treasure of nearly $2 billion. And it says much of that money should be returned to taxpayers.

The money rests in “unencumbered balances” of more than 1,600 state funds, the center’s report states.

“Unencumbered fund balances often tell a story of waste or excessive funding,” according to the report.

Gov. Mark Parkinson’s budget director, Duane Goossen, says the report makes some incorrect generalizations. The funds cited in the report are used for specific purposes as set up by state law, he said.

“The key point that I would make is that while the report uses the word ‘unencumbered,’ and seems to suggest that that means somehow the balances in these funds are unplanned for, not budgeted for, or are there for the discretionary use of the agencies that hold the funds — that is not correct.

“They are all budgeted and only move with authorization of the Legislature. Their use is planned for and part of the overall budget,” Goossen said.

For example, he said, the unemployment trust fund held several hundred million dollars at the start of the fiscal year. These funds are dedicated to paying unemployment benefits, and as it turns out, are about to be depleted in several months for that purpose, which will force the state to borrow from the federal government.

The Flint Hills Center for Public Policy, in Wichita, describes itself as “dedicated to the constitutional principles of limited government, open markets and personal responsibility, which we believe are essential for individual freedom and prosperity to flourish.” The unencumbered balance report was done by Steven Anderson, a certified public accountant from Oklahoma, who has also done work for Americans for Prosperity-Kansas.

Flint Hills President Dave Trabert will get the chance to state the group’s case to legislators today during a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee.

Trabert is on the committee meeting agenda to discuss the unencumbered cash report, but he also put out a news release, saying that the Flint Hills group today will announce ways to reduce spending in public schools.

The committee was called into session by House Republican leaders to come up with ways to cut spending. It plans on meeting today and Tuesday.

In addition to Trabert’s part of the meeting, the committee will get an update on casino development, and review the impact of budget reductions to several agencies, including the Kansas Board of Regents, Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, Department of Corrections, Department of Health and Environment and Department of Transportation.

Tuesday is devoted to school finance discussion, the unemployment insurance trust fund, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, and an overview of the judicial branch budgets and caseloads.