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Legislative update

Balancing the state budget is no easy task

Rep., District 70

We start the wrap-up (veto) session April 27. The primary issue at hand will be the budget. This is always a pull and tug among four competing concepts: The need to cut spending or increase revenue, the desire to cut spending, the need to spend on services, and the desire to spend on services.

Our duty is to balance them, as each elected official believes he or she is called to do in representing the needs and desires of the legislator’s district.

First, consider essential cuts (no one wants the alternative — a tax increase). Because of this recession, Kansas was in a $500 million hole. With our recent revenue projections, however, estimates have been lowered $21.5 million more; the projection is the sum we use in designing the final 2012 budget. If we adopt the Governor’s proposed budget, we would need about $15.5 million more cuts to break even; with the Senate’s proposal, we’d be short (and have to cut) about $23.3 million more.

The House version would still have a $48 million ending balance. Following the House plan wouldn’t require more cuts and would leave money in the bank, but what cuts were made by the House to get that extra balance? Forty-eight million dollars, however, is not a big margin (less than 1 percent of the total budget), and isn’t even close to the statutory goal/mandate of maintaining 7.5 percent in the treasury as a cushion against short revenues.

Remember, constitutionally we must prepare a balanced budget, and we can’t overspend that budget or the actual revenue we receive. The ending books must balance.

Desire to cut: Some legislators want to cut another $300 million this year, even after the initial $500 million. Some representatives campaigned on a platform to “shrink the government” and they see that as their mission, no matter what the impact to Kansans. Their philosophy is that state government is too big, and every area of spending ought to be cut — not just temporarily cut; they want those deeper cuts to be permanent.

Schools, aging, corrections, juveniles, courts, state salaries. Everything.

Third, the need to spend: We need, or at least most of us believe we need, to blade snow off the highways, run and monitor prisons, and so forth; and this includes the constitutional duty to provide suitable funding for our schools. Most of us also believe we have a need and duty to fund our public universities.

Lastly, we have the desire to spend beyond necessities. We know we want disabled folks to live independently rather than in an institution; and we want elderly people to stay home as long as possible so we want to provide them home services.

We also know the benefit of the arts, and while we can exist without publicly funding music, dance, and visual arts, we recognize the benefit of each. Many folks want them funded, as part of our learning environment and as part of our common culture.

It’s easy to advocate shrinking state spending (desire to cut), but we disagree on what desired spending to cut, and how far to shrink desired spending.

Unfortunately, in a recession we also fuss over necessities: school funding, cutting prison and parole officer funding, how to stop overtime in the department of transportation. Could you have predicted this winter’s snows and the need for overtime?

If we are to live together in a community, we all must feel like our needs and our most basic desires are being fulfilled. It is not enough to say, “Let’s cut that” and then, without public comment or debate, permanently chop off a function. We can stop Meals on Wheels, but should we?

We can stop teaching music in schools and playing sports, but will we see our children as appropriately educated?

We can cut agriculture from high schools, but would that really be acceptable for any of us? It isn’t readin,’ writin,’ or ‘rithmitic, but isn’t it important to us with rural schools?

We all have views on these matters.

We have a new governor who has only been on the job since January. Let’s let him look into each agency before we take an axe to anything; let Gov. Brownback find efficiencies, extravagances, needs, and priorities. Let’s give him time to adjust our spending and propose changes.

I’d predict he and his staff have a better idea than we legislators on what can be effectively cut and what ought to be spared. Gov. Brownback looks at the overall picture. Let’s let him. I’d prefer we cut what we must, fund what we can, come back next year with a better economy, and decide what desires we believe are sufficiently important to fund and which ones aren’t.

Please contact me at Brookens70@sbcglobal.net or write me at Kansas State Capitol Building, 300 SW 10th St, Topeka KS 66612; or call (620) 382-2133 or my Topeka number during the session through about May 10, (785) 296-7636.

Last modified April 20, 2011

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