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Search is on for what to not-spend

There was this election deal last week that seemed to dominate the newspapers, but for the other-oriented crowd that lives in the Statehouse, the news that day was the Consensus Revenue Estimate.

Yes, we noticed the election, but there weren't many surprises for the folks who don't get out of the Capitol much.

It was that Consensus Revenue Estimate that told us just how much money the state is going to have to spend next session, and if you want money or a change in state policy, it is that estimate that sets the stage for action next session.

The estimate, which Gov. Sam Brownback has to use as the basis for his budget, is that Kansas gets out of the current fiscal year (that's July 1, 2012, to June 30) in pretty good shape.

It's the next year that is the tricky one.

The massive tax cut bill passed by the 2012 Legislature -- that new law Democrats spent the summer telling us would bankrupt the state and that Republicans said was a step toward a booming state economy -- led to the Consensus Revenue projection of $704.8 million less money for the state to spend than it spent this year.

That's an 11.4 percent cut in money to spend, and while the budget for the rest of this fiscal year shows a balance of $473 million, that surplus gets used up and the state is $327 million short of "business as usual" for the fiscal year starting July 1. Business as usual -- which practically never happens -- means the state spends just what it is spending this year with some necessary increases that are required by law (for schools, KPERS and such).

What's that going to mean?

Practically, that the relatively tight budget the Legislature adopted last session -- which produced the surplus -- turns out to be a good thing, because it gives the state a cushion against the revenue drops that lawmakers will deal with next session.

And, remember, on Jan. 1, income tax rates fall for nearly everyone in the state, so Kansans will have more money to spend on (hopefully) taxable stuff, such as cars and groceries and clothes and probably liquor and maybe cigarettes for those who indulge. And that's more unexpected money the state might take in.

But even if everyone spent every dime he/she saved on state income taxes -- and remember, July 1, the sales tax rate is scheduled to drop by a little more than half a penny -- the state is still far short of just meeting its commitments.

So the search is on for how to not-spend that $327 million the state would spend if lawmakers just Xeroxed the current year budget and passed it again.

It comes down to what don't you want this time?

The question also carries the qualification: What don't you want this time that voters will either not notice or not object to so strongly that the governor and the Kansas House (both stand for reelection in 2014) all get tossed out of office?

Do you pare slightly everything in the budget, or do you find an agency or policy or expenditure that can be politically demonized so that you actually get support for drowning that pup?

Those appear to be the options.

We'll see how those folks who got elected last week deal with it, won't we?

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.