This might be a good time to get the children out of the room.
Lawmakers learned last week that in January, theyíre going to have to cut at least $345 million from the state budget in the remaining six months of the current fiscal year.
Once they get that chore accomplished, theyíre going to have to deal with the final two budget years of the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback. The budgets are going to be built around estimates of continued shrinkage in tax receipts, $443 million less in the full fiscal year which starts July 1, 2017, and a dab of an increase, approximately $39 million, for the following fiscal year which nobody cares much about.
The reason for the shrinking revenues? It depends largely on the political party of the person you talk to. Republicans tend to point toward the national economy, to falling oil and natural gas prices, falling farm profits; Democrats tend to point to 2012 income tax cuts that benefitted those LLCs, farms, sole proprietorships and such which were exempted from state income tax. You can discuss amongst yourselves the reason, but the result is large budget cuts in an already pretty well pared-down budget.
Anyone imagine what the new members elected to the Legislature are thinking? Maybe that they need to form a support group or at least someone ought to confiscate their belts so they donít hang themselves in their garages once they are formally sworn in and on the state payroll Jan. 9.
Oh, and while that new Legislature has lots of experienced lawmakers (including five new senators moving over from the House and six former representatives who won election to the House), 48 members ó nine in the Senate, 39 in the House ó will be brand new to this business of running the state. They are going to be voting on sharp budget cuts before theyíre even certain where the bathrooms are in the Statehouse.
Those budget cuts are going to be interesting in two ways: What gets cut, and why the governor didnít intervene and make so-called ďallotmentsĒ or cuts in November. Nobody likes cuts, but even a two-month head-start on those reductions before the Legislature convenes spreads the cuts over the longest time, which means agencies can somewhat soften the blow to their programs and employees. It might mean, at least for the remainder of this fiscal year, fewer layoffs than would be necessary if agencies must compress those cuts and layoffs over a longer period.
Itís spreading the pain, but just for this current fiscal year, and things get worse in the year that starts July 1 unless there are dramatic tax increases.
Those tax increases? Putting those who donít pay taxes back on the books? Well, it gets tricky there, because spending cuts can be made quickly, but there arenít a lot of taxes lawmakers can pass that result in near-immediate increases in cash. Sales tax can be raised quickly, a month or two, but more likely on July 1, which doesnít solve this fiscal yearís problem. Oh, and donít look for any lawmakers, new or experienced, to vote for that. Maybe expand the sales tax to services, but that is a proposal legislators will debate for months because it draws a whole new legion of lobbyists to the Statehouse.
The fiscal problems, they seem more serious than Statehouse insiders have seen for years, probably decades.
The budget cuts? Itís going to be ugly; there are services Kansans just donít want to do without. There are the poor to be assisted, the ill to be treated, the children to be educated.
Starting to look like maybe you want to read the newspapers before the children do, and you might want to cut some of those stories out so they donít have to read them.
Syndicated by Hawver News Co.
of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher
of Hawverís Capitol Report.