TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has decided against proposing across-the-board cuts in state spending next year after his budget director asked agencies to propose 5 percent reductions and found some of the recommendations “harmful” to services.
Budget Director Shawn Sullivan sent an email Tuesday to department heads, telling them the Republican governor won’t include across-the-board reductions in the budget proposals to be presented to legislators in January. Those proposals would include changes in the current, $15.5 billion budget and proposed spending blueprints for each of the next two fiscal years.
Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since GOP lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging, hoping to stimulate the economy. The state’s tax collections have fallen short of expectations for 10 of the past 12 months and 31 of the 44 months since the first income tax cuts took effect in January 2013.
Sullivan acknowledged that the state will have to make adjustments in its current budget, and his email leaves open the possibility that the governor will propose some targeted spending cuts for the next fiscal year that begins July 1, 2017, and the following budget year.
A report issued by legislative researchers last week showed Kansas is likely to have at least a small projected shortfall when its current budget year ends, if it doesn’t make adjustments.
Sullivan had asked agencies to outline proposals for meeting a 5 percent reduction in their state funding. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said Tuesday that the request was a “routine” part of annual budget preparations, but Sullivan’s email acknowledged the state faces “a challenging budget situation.”
“Some of your reduced resources proposals included reductions to services that would have been harmful to the mission of your agency and the citizens you serve,” Sullivan said in his email to department secretaries, without being more specific.
Released by the governor’s office, Sullivan’s email came six weeks before the November general election, with Brownback’s fiscal policies a key issue in legislative races.
Fourteen GOP conservatives lost their seats in the August primary. Democrats are looking to cut into large Republican majorities in both chambers, which could enable them and GOP moderates to form governing coalitions.
And Sullivan’s email generated bipartisan criticism.
State Rep. Jerry Henry, the House Appropriations Committee’s ranking Democrat, acknowledged that across-the-board cuts would harm services, but he said some selected cuts would have to be deeper than 5 percent if some programs are spared.
State Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican serving on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said Brownback should propose across-the-board cuts. He said it would help balance the budget but also spur lawmakers to rethink parts of the 2012 and 2013 income tax cuts.
Kansas lowered personal income tax rates and exempted more than 330,000 farmers and business owners from paying such taxes. Even Denning and some other Republicans want lawmakers to greatly narrow or eliminate the exemption.
“The time has come to stabilize the budget and sort it out, and I think an across-the-board, 5 percent cut would get everybody engaged,” Denning said.
Brownback and his aides haven’t spelled out what steps they’re considering to keep the budget balanced.
“We’re always looking for ways to operate government more efficiently,” Hawley said Tuesday.
News organizations, including The Associated Press, sought copies of the agencies’ proposals for reducing their spending 5 percent. Sullivan told the department heads that the proposals are internal documents, not subject to disclosure under the state’s open records law — a break with past administrations.
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