You probably had a good weekend, once you got the lawnmower started or found the bucket and soap you use to wash the car.
It was a lot like that at the Statehouse, too, after the release Friday of the state’s March revenues. Those revenues, at $425 million, were just about $8.5 million less than predicted. That was the best news the folks who have to manage the state’s budget heard for a while.
Now, getting $8.5 million less than you expected isn’t always good news. Most of us would have to bag lunch for the month, but in a state that had been worried about a shortfall for the month of tens of millions of dollars, the slight slip was almost a gift.
Reason the shortfall is good news is it means there might not be any more substantial bad news for, well, almost two weeks, when that cash-in, cash-out monthly revenue figure is turned into the prediction for state revenues for the remainder of this fiscal year.
That April 20 touchstone will be when the state’s economic and revenue experts — called the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, or CREG — assemble their best insiders’ guess of just how much money the state expects to have in the bank on June 30 — the end of the current fiscal year. CREG also predicts revenues for the year starting July 1 and gives lawmakers a little time to work on that upcoming fiscal year.
That figure, which is the official estimate lawmakers have to aim for, will have a lot to do with the face of state government this summer while legislators are seeking re-election to the House and Senate for the next two and four years, respectively.
If the estimate is optimistic, it means legislators might not have to curtail spending on things we notice, and therefore, won’t have reason to vote against them over. If the estimate is pessimistic — that means the current level of taxing and spending is insufficient to balance the budget June 30 — it means they’re going to have to find cuts in spending that can be accomplished quickly to balance the budget.
That’s why Friday’s numbers of revenues for the month of March were a keystone. “Not as bad as it looks” is one of the best phrases lawmakers, and by implication, their constituents, have been able to toss out in months.
Do you relax? Is Gov. Sam Brownback’s experiment in reducing income taxes to spur more “discretionary” spending that will fill the state’s coffers working?
Best guesses are probably not, but he and the Legislature got a couple more weeks to hope for that result. Kansans paid more sales tax to the state than anticipated, but that surprise $5.8 million in unexpected sales tax revenue doesn’t seem to indicate “discretionary” sending is starting a substantial up-tick.
Retail sales tax receipts were up just 3.4 percent from estimates, which isn’t exactly a gusher in revenue for the state.
So, most of us Kansans — except those of you waiting for the new off-ramp from the interstate or the replacement of a bridge on the school bus route — can take a few weeks off from worry about what happens next in the Statehouse.
We’ll see what the estimators believe is happening to the state’s revenues, and how the governor and Legislature respond to it.
The narrow shortfall for March means something.
But we’re wondering what it means that Kansans in March drank less — from receipts from alcohol taxes — and smoked nearly 1.6 million fewer packs of cigarettes — again, from those tobacco tax receipts — than expected.
We’ll see how that changes as we get the main revenue estimate, and whether, after it’s received later this month, folks decide that it’s OK to sit back, have a drink, and go outside and have a smoke.
Syndicated by Hawver News Co.
of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report.