Jonathan Shorman
August 11, 2016

Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration is asking state agencies to show how they would deal with a 5 percent cut during the next budget cycle.

The request to agencies comes as the budgeting process begins to grind into gear ahead of January, when Brownback will officially send a budget to lawmakers.

While it is unknown what Brownback will ultimately propose, the administration’s quest for additional information on a 5 percent reduction versus current spending levels suggests the governor may be eyeing potentially significant reductions to keep expenditures and revenues aligned.

The Legislature may not be in the mood for such a sharp cut without also taking a look at taxes. Both the House and Senate will include a number of freshmen moderate Republicans who campaigned on adjusting the state’s tax policy, even though Brownback has not appeared especially interested in reopening the tax discussion.

“Yes, we like all state agencies were requested to provide the budget director additional numbers as to what a 5 percent reduction would look like.   This is for the budget years (fiscal year 2018) and (fiscal year 2019),” Breeze Richardson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Board of Regents, said.

The governor’s office downplayed the request. A Brownback spokeswoman indicated no decisions will be made until after a new revenue forecast is released in November. The last four forecasts, issued twice a year, have all downgraded the amount of revenue the state is expected to take in.

“No decisions on funding levels for agencies will be made until after the November Consensus Revenue Estimating Group meets. It is a common practice to ask agencies to think about reduced budgets,” spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the state’s fiscal situation will not change until it comes to grips with the underlying problem: tax policy. The “real boogeyman” he said, was the 2012 tax cuts.

Hensley said a 5 percent cut would affect state services. He worried that a 5 percent cut to the Kansas State Department of Education would ultimately affect K-12 education, for example.

The administration, Hensley said, is in a state of denial.

“It’s more of the same. We just keep going down the path – a huge certificate of indebtedness, we had a downgrade in our credit rating – now we’re looking at a 5 percent cut for the next two years. Our financial house is in a real mess,” Hensley said.

Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, expressed cautious optimism about agencies potentially looking at reductions.

“I think it has the potential to be a very positive development provided that it’s properly implemented. An across the board cut would not be the thing to do,” Trabert said.

Trabert said reductions need to be guided by providing the same or better quality services at a lower cost. He emphasized the idea of making government more efficient and indicated an efficiency study of state government released early this year as provides guidance on how to move toward that goal.

Kansas Center for Economic Growth research analyst Nathan Madden said the state has already endured nine rounds of budget cuts, two sales tax hikes and three credit rating downgrades since the 2012 tax plan was passed.

“His latest request to reduce agency budgets is further evidence that his experiment is failing, that he anticipates it will continue to fail, and that he wants our most important investments – good schools, high quality roads, and safe communities – to continue footing the bill,” Madden said.

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal here.

Lisa OwenTOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: State agencies asked to look at 5 percent cuts