Written by Bob Brookens Tuesday, 27 January 2009 14:18
Let me set up the dilemma facing the Kansas Legislature.
Kansas is a cash-basis state and cannot constitutionally spend in the red. Period. The end of the current fiscal year (or spending year) is June 30 and we must right the ship by then.
When Gov. Kathleen Sebelius presented her budget modifications Jan. 13, Kansas had about a $220 million problem. If receipts from taxes are slow in January through June, the $220 million grows.
We have massive cuts to make to balance the current budget, and then we work on a new budget for the next spending year, which starts July 1.
In practice, the Legislature cuts a broad department budget; the executive branch determines what piece of its programs and employees get cut, but the legislative dilemma is still the same.
Some folks don’t want budgets cut; they are in denial about the problem. We have no choice but to cut spending now. The question for us in Topeka is: What departments do we cut, and how much? Do we cut all budgets across the board? Do we cut some budgets more than others? There is no easy solution from my vantage point.
Here are a few examples of the issues involved: If we cut education, what spending at this time of the school year can schools effectively cut? School boards can’t cut class size or terminate teachers part way through the year. It’s also pretty tough to just stop teaching a course part way through a year—no more algebra?
The disruptions of cutting teaching staff or combining classes or cutting any educational program would do great harm. We might as well close the schools. You get the point.
Schools might be able to modify the way they handle finances for future years, but we are dealing with “right now” and school ends mid-May—no time to effectively change anything.
As for 2010, do we really want to shortchange our children’s education, even for a year? Our children are the future of Kansas. Kansas was built on a strong public education system, and Kansas will thrive or wither based on public education. Which do we want? There are improvements our schools can make, but what budget cut will help a school improve what is taught?
If we cut social services, who is sliced? Public assistance for the person who cannot provide for himself or herself? Should funding for foster children be curtailed? How about immunizations for infants? Nutrition centers for the elderly?
Should we cut prison funding? Should Kansas turn loose about 1,000 inmates? Should Kansas stop services for prisoners who are close to being released anyway?
For your understanding, Kansas leads the nation in the work we do to help men and women in prison prepare for real life after prison—partially paid for with private and a federal grants—and we have reduced our rate of repeat offenders from about 80 percent to about 30 percent. That means those programs are saving us lots of money.
What Kansas is spending now to help this group of people is peanuts compared with what we would pay through the years if we don’t help them learn to be successful after prison. There are those who still fail, but far less than just five years ago.
Well? What do we cut? Which area is not important to us as Kansans? I am not taking a poll, but I want you to see some of the issues that have already cropped up in just my first two weeks.
Each of us can see a piece of waste, a worker who doesn’t always work hard, or an inefficient piece of government, but $200 million? It won’t be easy determining what budgets to cut to right the ship, but legislators are charged with that task, and the executive branch will administer those cuts.
I appreciate your encouragement and feedback since I wrote my first column. Your observations are truly appreciated. This week I wanted share with you the challenges Kansas faces right now, and give you a flavor of the complexity of the matter. I’ve only spotlighted a few areas.
No, we don’t want to harm students or those in need. We still must cut budgets, and I hope you understand the struggle we face. I will do my best balancing the needs of all in the 70th District.
While I am not on the committee writing the proposals, I will give my input, and I will vote on the 2009 budget modifications. I predict we all will have to tighten our belts.
You can contact me by email me at Brookens70@sbcglobal.net or write me at: 201 Meadow Lane, Marion, KS 66861.