Editorial: Budget blunders

As the state budget winds its way through the Kansas Legislature, legislators are proposing cuts that defy both logic and any sense of fair play.

Here are a few examples:

• After placing a high priority and committing state funds to the Kansas University Medical Center’s successful quest to be designated as a National Cancer Center, AND after charging KUMC with increasing the number of doctors and nurses it graduates, the Kansas House has passed a budget that cuts the medical center’s budget by 4 percent or about $4.2 million. The 4 percent is an across-the-board cut for all state universities, which legislators maintain should be able to handle the budget reductions without increasing tuition.

• In an effort to reduce the budget to operate state prisons, legislators are looking at a proposal that would give judges and probation officers more options in dealing with people who violate their probation or parole. A proposed law would establish a series of “graduated sanctions,” such as county jail time, that could be ordered before sending a violator to an overcrowded state prison.

A few years ago, the Kansas Department of Corrections operated nationally recognized programs to reduce “recidivism,” the return of paroled inmates to prison. Funds were cut, and those programs went away. Rather than spending money to help prisoners make it on the outside, the state is back to spending money — or having local counties spend money — to deal with increased probation and parole violations. It doesn’t seem like progress.

• Legislators were looking at diverting $383 million over the next two years from Kansas Department of Transportation highway projects to fund other expenses, but, at least for now, the House-approved budget doesn’t include those funds. Has the state finally learned how hard it is to catch up on highway and other transportation expenses when repairs and projects are delayed? Maybe, but the budget isn’t done yet.

• In the “fairness” category, let’s look at the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. In recent years, KDWP officials have heeded the state’s instruction to make their operation less dependent on state funds by taking such steps as raising the age at which a Kansas resident can obtain a free hunting or fishing license. Starting Jan. 1, 2013, the age for a free license rose to 75, instead of 65.

Now, state legislators, looking for money in every corner, have found $500,000 in the KDWP’s cabin rental fund and decided they want to sweep that money into the state’s general fund to be used for nonpark expenses. Park officials say the cabin fund was at an unusually high level awaiting spring maintenance projects. KDWP was making an honest effort to try to deal with millions of dollars in state budget cuts in recent years, and when it manages to put aside $500,000 for maintenance projects, legislators decide they have better uses for that money.

The income tax cuts approved by the Legislature last year and further tax cuts proposed by both legislators and the governor this year have put lawmakers in a tough financial spot — a spot that could encourage some imprudent and penny-wise-pound-foolish decisions that could hurt the state for years to come.