Kansas lawmakers pass unbalanced budget


As Kansas lawmakers close out their 2016 session by passing an unbalanced budget, spending cuts loom heavy for most state agencies.


As the Lawrence Journal-World reported, state lawmakers passed a $6.3 billion budget that failed to account for a $22 million deficit created by falling tax revenue. As part of the legislation, the House and Senate both approved SB 249, a bill that grants Gov. Sam Brownback authority to enact $92 million in additional cuts to state spending.


Brownback has previously announced plans to reduce funding for highway improvements and higher education, but those cuts alone will likely be insufficient to overcome the state’s deficit. While the legislature’s plan assumes the implementation of these cuts, balancing the budget will probably require more spending reductions, possibly to the state’s Medicaid program and public colleges and universities.


According to The Washington Times, the unbalanced budget will likely result in a delayed rollout for the $96 million state contribution to public employee pension programs that was due this spring. The state’s Department of Transportation had also previously announced its intention to stall 25 highway projects, which would allow Brownback to divert $185 million from the road fund to general government spending. Other possible cuts, as outlined by Kansas Budget Director Shawn Sullivan in April, include a $27 million reduction in higher education spending and $51 million from social services.


Kansas’ budget difficulties began in 2012, when state lawmakers backed a plan, on Brownback’s urging, that would reduce income taxes in the state. The effort was intended to stimulate economic development and attract new businesses. The Times noted tax increases are not included in the unbalanced budget.


“Proposed spending reductions may affect the state’s Medicaid program and public colleges and universities.”

Speaking with the Journal-World, Sen. Laura Kelly said the legislature’s decision to adjourn its session without passing a balanced budget was a failure to perform its constitutional duty.


“It seems to me this is unprecedented,” Kelly told the newspaper. “Adjourning with cuts still needing to be made in order to get to zero (balance) is unprecedented, as far as I can remember. I think it’s an abdication of our responsibility to put together a truly balanced budget.”


However, Sen. Ty Masterson, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Ways and Means, said a similar approach was used under former Gov. Mark Parkinson, and resulted in a balanced budget.


Impact on education
As the Times noted, Sullivan’s plan, as proposed last month, also included $57 million in cuts for public K-12 schools. In passing SB 249, the Kansas legislature specifically prohibited Brownback from enacting any more cuts to public education. However, some educators are worried that the state’s ongoing budget troubles may have already taken their toll.


As reported by Wichita CBS affiliate KWCH, existing budget cuts have made it more difficult for schools to attract and retain teachers. Speaking with the news outlet, one teacher said, after adjusting for inflation and health care costs, she has not received a raise in seven years. The news outlet also reported many teachers are forced to take on second jobs and some are considering moving out of the state.


“Budget cuts have made it more difficult for schools to attract and retain teachers.”

Speaking with KWCH, Newton School District Superintendent Deborah Hamm said it is also becoming more difficult for administrators to fill vacant positions.


“We’re at a place where finding, recruiting teachers to come to our district and then retaining them is becoming more and more difficult,” Hamm said. “We’re having trouble filling certain positions that a few years ago would’ve been easy to fill, like English Language Arts.”


According to Kansas City NBC affiliate KSHB, the likely delay of state contributions to public employee pension plans will also impact teachers. The uncertainty of retirement fund availability may make Kansas a less attractive place for incoming teachers.


Additionally, KSHB reported, higher education students have reacted negatively to the unbalanced budget, with many raising the concern that further cuts from Brownback will result in tuition hikes at public universities including The University of Kansas and Kansas State University. As those two schools have the largest budgets in the university system, they will likely bear the brunt of the funding cuts.


How Questica can help
Budget deficits present unique challenges for state governments. While economic incentives, such as tax cuts, can be useful for attracting new businesses and creating jobs, there may also be revenue consequences to these programs that require years of precise financial forecasting.


Questica’s Public Sector budgeting platform provides state governments with the tools to manage, balance and plan complex budgets. The web-based software not only eliminates the need for inefficient and potentially inaccurate spreadsheets, but it also provides a streamlined platform where multiple stakeholders can access highly organized, real-time data that is instrumental in making informed budgetary decisions.


With Questica’s unlimited forecasting tools, governments can see the financial impact of spending cuts, funding increases, tax incentives and other programs over the course of several years. Utilizing this platform to create multiple, hypothetical budgets grants lawmakers granular insight into how budgetary decisions affect state employees and citizens in years to come.


By taking advantage of Questica’s comprehensive and configurable software, lawmakers and state agencies can improve their projections of how budgetary changes affect their staff, programs and performance. Governments working to overcome budget deficits should contact Questica to learn how budgeting software can provide greater insight into this complex decision-making process.