Gov. Sam Brownback refuses to see the state’s budget calamity for what it is.
While seeking re-election, the Republican told us all was well.
“The sun is shining in Kansas, and don’t let anyone tell you any different,” he crowed.
But Kansas’ fiscal forecast was gloomy at best due to reckless income tax cuts that undermined revenue, failed to ignite economic growth as promised, and plunged the state deep in debt.
More proof of Brownback’s disconnect with reality came after the election, when he amazingly claimed he didn’t know Kansas would be in such a pickle.
Yet warnings came loud and clear before the election:
• Kansas suffered multiple credit downgrades.
• Former state budget director Duane Goossen predicted the mess now unfolding, and the governor’s camp laughed him off.
• Hundreds of prominent Kansas Republicans who grasped the severity of the situation backed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis in hopes of changing course and minimizing further damage.
And now, Brownback’s response to his radical experiment gone awry would be kicking the can down the road.
His strategy to tackle the projected $279 million shortfall in the current budget relies on cuts and diverting dollars into the general fund from highway, tobacco settlement and other funds. Most of the moves are one-time reductions that cannot be repeated in the next fiscal year, which begins in July.
That leaves lawmakers to address an estimated and stunning $640 million-plus budget shortfall for FY2016 — if state revenue comes in as expected.
That’s a mighty big “if.” Revenue totals were more than $300 million below expectations in the last fiscal year, so the shortfall could swell.
Even folks who demand the state do more to tighten its belt have to acknowledge the potential negative fallout ahead in closing such a massive gap.
A governor who said all options would be considered would be wise to place reform of the ill-conceived tax policy atop the list, and avoid damaging cuts to vital state services.
Fat chance, as Brownback and his ultraconservative allies already have public education and other services Kansans need in their sights.
Buckle up, Kansas. The road only gets rougher from here on out.