Legislature to work with new 2-year budget

When Kansas legislators return to Topeka in January to start the 2014 session, they?ll be dealing with the state budget in a significantly different way.

Last year, for the first time since 1954, the Legislature received from the governor and then approved a two-year budget plan, which means many important spending decisions for the coming fiscal year have already been made.

Previously, the wrangling of agency budgets was a year-to-year exercise.

?The two-year budget has been in the works for as long as I?ve been in the Legisla?ture, seven years,? said Senate Vice President Jeff King, an Independence Republican.

?A lot school districts and others have come to us and said, ?We really want the budget certainty that comes with doing multi-year budgeting because we would know what we?re getting from you and could work accordingly.?

?So I think the two-year budget cycle is a good one,? King said. ?A lot of other states do it. I think it?s a positive development for Kansas. We are obviously going to be working out some of the kinks that come with working with an off-year budget.?

?Whole new experience?

?This is a whole new experience coming up,? said Duane Goossen, a former state legislator and budget director for three Kansas governors. He now is vice president of fiscal and health policy at the Kansas Health Institute.

?No one in the Legisla?ture or the administration has been in the second year of an existing budget, so it’s hard to predict how this session will go. The Legislature could consider substantial changes. Or they could do nothing and we would still have an approved budget for fiscal 2015.?

The last two-year budget was for fiscal years 1954-1955, according to Brian Herder of the Kansas State Library. Then, the Legisla?ture still met every two years instead of gathering for an annual 90-day session.

In 1954, lawmakers began holding ?budget sessions? in the intervening years. Then, in 1966, the Legisla?ture amended the state Constitu?tion to allow annual sessions.

The state fiscal year begins July 1, so when lawmakers concluded the 2013 session they had already approved spending plans extending to July 1, 2015.

This year as in the past, state agencies have submitted budgets for the coming fiscal year to the Division of Budget, but mostly with only minor revisions to what has already been approved.

Sara Belfry, a spokesperson for Gov. Sam Brown?back, said the governor?s coming 2015 budget proposal ?will not be the full budget proposal that has happened every year in the past. This year the Legislature will need to go back and re-do the Department of Corrections budget, as the governor vetoed that (last year), but as they already passed the FY15 budget we don?t need to propose a new budget.?

Some power shifting

Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said as a technical matter he expects the new budget process will differ but slightly from the previous process.

?It?s my understanding that this (second year of the cycle) will be real similar to what we?ve done in past years when we?re presented with a supplemental budget request for the year we?re in at the time,? he said.

?So, basically, next year we?re going to be presented with a supplemental request for (FY) 2015. It?ll be handled like a supplemental. I think the processes are going to be almost identical.?

But he said the new process does shift some power from the Legislature to the executive branch.

It ?does put a lot of unique power in the Gover?nor?s Office in that in whatever worst-case scenario you may have, the Governor?s Office can always line-item veto whatever the Legisla?ture does, and then they (legislators) are left with what?s already appropriated for 2015.?

Better planning

When he proposed the idea last year, Brownback said a two-year budget cycle would increase government efficiency and improve long-term planning.

So far, that?s been the experience at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said Deputy Secretary Aaron Dunkel.

?I think we?re going to see a pretty substantial effect from the ability to plan out (two years) moving forward. It?s freed us up to do some things that we knew we wanted to do,? Dunkel said.

He said the effect has been most apparent in ?lower priority? programs identified as targets for elimination, if the agency?s budget were to be cut.

?There?s not a lot of activity trying to make those lower priority programs better, because you know at any time they might go away,? Dunkel said.

?Having a budget that at least lets us go out another year really gave us the opportunity to ask: Are those programs low-priority because they are underperforming, but with the right attention they could move up that priority list??

Dunkeldeclined to cite examples of such programs.

?For those that know they?re on the edge…knowing they?re safer for a longer period of time?just from a psychological perspective?gives them the opportunity to be much more engaged,? he said.

The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute.

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