The experts, college professors, legislative staffers and all got together last week and computed/calculated/guessed/hoped that the state is going to take in $217 million more than expected in this now-waning fiscal year and $316 million more than expected in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Well, that’s gotta be good, it means a little more change in the state’s pocket, and maybe nothing that we like to see our state tax money spent on must be cut, or at least not by much.
But it also appears ready to spark a fight among lawmakers. Do they just toss that $80 million into the K-12 school finance bill that got left out due to some last-minute rewrite of the bill and the shuffling of money within the K-12 budget and call it good?
That’s what many lawmakers believe the Kansas Supreme Court wants them to do to get that “adequacy” portion of the school finance operation up to high court standards. The Legislature already has apparently solved — or believes it has solved — the “equity” problem in the school finance arena, making sure the money is split up among the 286 school districts fairly.
So, there’s just that $80 million now confirmed on hand — and which actually was on hand before that new smiley-face revenue estimate of last Friday — to write the check for, and then start scrapping over what to do with the rest of the $217 million they have to spend if they care to.
Care to spend? We’re betting yes, this being the year the House members stand for reelection and are hoping to find something nice to do for registered voters who will decide whether they winter in Topeka the next two years.
So, what’s both possible and attractive to those voters in 125 House districts who decide whether legislators make it through this November’s general election?
Well, there’s an income tax cut bill the Senate has approved, and the House might want to look at. It is a little complex, but basically it uses money freed up by last December’s federal income tax cut. The less federal income tax you pay, the more of your money is available for the state to levy income taxes against. It means more revenue for the state — over and above the $217 million for the remainder of this year and the $316 million for the upcoming fiscal year. That’s a jackpot worth several hundred million dollars that the state didn’t levy, that will just roll in because Congress said so.
Now, everyone wants more money, and many legislators would like to have their name on a bill that hands Kansans money.
Looks like the big fight when lawmakers return for their wrap-up session on Thursday will be whether to hand Kansans an income tax cut.
That federal trickle-down, some lawmakers believe or are at least saying, isn’t the doing of the state and ought to be handed back in the form of election-year tax cuts. Ideally, each legislator would be able to get that tax cut money for his/her district and distribute it in cash as they are going door-to-door to campaign. But that’s not going to happen.
But watch that new money. Does anyone really care about the cash balance in the State General Fund? When’s the last time you went to a party to celebrate a bigger state ending balance?
Or, do voters care about better health care for the poor, better roads, more law enforcement…or maybe push more of that money into their children’s and grandchildren’s schools?
We’ll see, won’t we.
Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report