By Senator Tim Huelskamp (R-Fowler) And
Senator Karin Brownlee (R-Olathe),
Any compromise that "splits the difference" is a fair solution only if each side has equal merit. Earlier this year, Governor Bill Graves reportedly called for a balanced approach to fix the state's budget problem. The bad news is that he did not get it (or even propose it). Instead, Topeka raised your general fund taxes more than $250 million, while reducing general fund spending by only $39 million.
This lack of budget balance resulted in the worst news of all. Governor Graves, President Dave Kerr, and Speaker Kent Glasscock, with a slim legislative margin, added to their four-year stint of deficit spending by approving a fiscal year 2003 budget $149 million deep in red ink, the state's fifth consecutive budget year out of balance.
Furthermore, little was done to correct a $375 million deficit for the just-completed 2002 fiscal year. When it ended this June, the four-year cumulative deficit total was $772 million. Adding the projected $149 million deficit for this year, Kansas will have deficit spent $921 million in only five years. That's almost good enough for Washington, D.C. work.
How has state government managed to jump this multi-year deficit cavern so far? By spending out every penny of the general fund cash surplus we had on hand when fiscal year 1998 started: $754 million. In stark contrast, the state began fiscal year 2003 with an initial cash balance of zero. Considering this multi-year trend of revenues outpaced by spending - it was not a one-year income drop that caused this problem - spending cuts should have dominated the latest budget deal.
Fortunately, there can be no additional tax increases to fill the $149 million hole before the Legislature convenes in January. Look for the Governor to begin his emergency "allotment" budget cutting authority soon to carve out roughly this amount. That process starts with letters to state agencies - just in time for the August election primaries, or perhaps shortly thereafter - in which the Governor instructs them to make cuts that are all matters of his discretion.
All the budget figures noted so far deal only with the state's general fund. While the general fund comprises roughly half of all state spending, the state spends the other half through more than 1,500 special state accounts that are reported in the All Funds budget.
By just putting a label on the money as not general fund revenue, they essentially transfer money away from the more closely scrutinized general fund. For example, they hiked fuel taxes by $44 million for next year and added tens of millions of dollars in new "user fees" -- all that fail to appear in the widely-reported general fund budget.
The same tactic holds true for spending. Our next fiscal year will spend more than $278 million traditionally paid through the general fund that is now shifted, labeled as something different, and only appears in the neglected All Funds budget. Again using official state figures, the All Funds budget is slated to increase by $343 million, a 3.6 percent budget increase. Unless one uses Enron-style accounting, there are no budget cuts here.
You can call the adopted approach many things, including unreasonable, unwise, unjustified and unjust to taxpayers struggling in a temporarily depressed, drought-stricken Kansas economy. It is certainly neither balanced nor moderate. Only rhetoric from Topeka could even suggest otherwise.