The budget Kansas legislators adopted in the waning hours of 113-day session will be busted in two years, despite a $1.2 billion tax increase. It also sweeps all but $5 million from the highway fund and defers payments to the state employee pension program, or KPERS–two things legislators smacked Gov. Sam Brownback for during campaigns last year.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn took to the Kansas Senate to excoriate previous legislatures.

Kansas legislators are out selling a story that’s untrue. They say the recently adopted budget “stabilizes” the state. However, it defers payments to KPERS and sweeps money from the highway fund while their tax plan will abscond $1.2 billion more from taxpayer pockets.

“This body has had four years to cut this budget. And that didn’t happen,” McGinn said. “Instead, the way we balanced the budget, the way this body balanced the budget in the last four years, was by stealing from KPERS, stealing from KDOT, stealing from fee funds, stealing from the water fund, and I could go on.”

Readers should question whether McGinn actually read the budget she advocated and voted for.

The two-year budget legislators recently approved sweeps virtually all funding from the state highway fund and defers KPERS payments. Without “stealing” (as McGinn calls it) from KDOT and KPERS, the budget would be almost $100 million short.

That potential shortfall is thanks to new spending. Legislators added more than $300 million in new spending over the next two years. The budget appropriates $6.6 billion for FY 2018 up from $6.3 billion this year. It represents $147.1 million more than Gov. Brownback’s recommended spending in 2018 and more than $132 million more than the Governor’s recommendation for 2019.

In her newsletter to constituents, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Republican, said the tax increase “stabilized a dangerous situation.”

Voters are about to see what that means for their paychecks. Their first paychecks in July will be smaller than their paychecks in June. Because the tax increase is ratcheted, voters will see a dip in their paychecks again come January 1, 2018. The biggest surprise for many voters arrives in April of next year. The tax increase is retroactive back to January 1 of 2017, which means employers haven’t been withdrawing enough money during the first half of the year. Many will be required to write a check to the state of Kansas when they file their taxes.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman explained his vote for a compromise to “get our state back on solid financial footing.”

“It’s time to provide certainty for Kansas,” he said.

Apparently, the only certainties worth a vote are continual budget shortfalls. Under current projections, the budget will be busted in two years.

So what will Kansans receive in return for sending an extra $600 or so to the state every year?

Only about $186 million of the new spending will go to schools next year. Instead, voters are now on the hook for additional spending on things like:

  • A $2.7 million on-site state employee health clinic. There are more than 17 health clinics in Topeka, many within a few blocks of the Capitol. Legislation to create a state employee health clinic died in committee, but like the ghost of overspending past, it was brought back during budget negotiations. The state will bid out a contract for a private company to run the clinic. However, Cerner lobbyists pushed hard for the addition; they’ll likely be bidders for the contract.
  • $26.7 million for employee raises–2.5 percent increases for employees with less than five years of service, and 5 percent for state employees who have not had a pay adjustment in five years. It’s important to note that classified state employees move up a pay scale with years of service. Only those at the highest step of the scale haven’t had a raise in five years. Others have stepped up the pay scale each year.
  • $4.7 million for 20 new beds at Osawatomie State Hospital. The hospital will also receive additional funding to cover operational expenses.
  • $1 million for a domestic violence prevention grant program.
  • $11 million in additional spending for community mental health services

Legislators removed budget provisions for efficiencies that would have saved the state more than $136 million over the next two years.

In short, the tax increase didn’t stabilize the budget; it didn’t fully fund KPERS, and it continued highway fund sweeps. Legislators increased taxes so they could increase spending. The least those Kansas legislators who voted for it could do is admit it.

Suggesting otherwise is either a conscious distortion of the truth or incompetence.

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