Next year’s budget was the lesser of evils, according to Sen. Julia Lynn and Reps. Willie Dove and Bill Sutton. Dove represents Gardner Lake, and Sutton represents most of Gardner and Edgerton in the Kansas House. Lynn represents the northern part of Gardner in the Kansas Senate.
The Kansas Legislature passed a 2014 budget that includes an almost $6 billion general fund budget and a tax plan that set sales tax rates at 6.15 percent beginning July 1.
“I think it’s probably the best we could get under the circumstances,” Lynn said.
The sales tax rate, currently at 6.3 percent, was to sunset to 5.7 percent at the end of this month, but legislators agreed to set the rate at 6.15 percent instead.
Legislators wrangled over the budget for hours during the waning hours of the session that stretched to 99 days. House members proposed budgets that allowed the full sunset to occur, while Senate budgets maintained the full 6.3 percent tax rate. In the early morning hours of the final day, legislators approved next year’s budget.
Dove is not happy with the budget and tax plan, though he voted for both. He said previous legislators promised to sunset the tax rate, and he wanted to keep that promise.
“It’s not been nice,” Dove said. “You want to keep your word to people. When you say something, you want to do what you said you’re going to do. When individuals leave an office and make a promise, it comes down to the individuals that are left there. That’s something that needs to stop. It makes us all look bad. I’m really upset with it, but that’s what we were faced with so we made the best of it.”
Sutton also voted for the final budget and tax plan. The budget didn’t cut spending as much as Sutton would have liked, but the final plan cut $104 million than the Gov. Sam Brownback’s original budget.
“Nobody ever gets everything they want in the budget. I think everyone is equally unhappy, which means it was probably successful,” he said.
Lynn is concerned that cuts to higher education may be detrimental, especially to community colleges.
Brownback initially proposed a 2014 budget that didn’t cut higher education funding, however the budget that eventually passed both legislative houses docks funding to the state’s public universities by $18.9 million.
The budget maintained existing levels of funding for public K-12 schools, but cut approximately $5.5 million from the state’s corrections budget.
Lynn said legislators will likely re-examine those cuts next year.
“I think there will be some revisions attempted, obviously next session if not before. I think there are some concerns about the corrections cuts that we need to be corrected,” she said. “I think it’s probably the best we could get under the circumstances.”
Dove said he was disappointed that the budget was debated in the 11th hour.
“We asked for some things in writing and it never happened… (The Senate) wanted us to approve the first two budgets they sent over, and we sent them back and said we’re not going to do it,” Dove said.
He called the process “sickening. It was not pretty. Tempers flared.”
Next year’s budget sets a cap of 2 percent on how much government spending can grow over the course of a year. Any revenues derived above that cap in future years will be used to buy down state income tax rates.
“We know that cutting taxes will bring in economic growth and it will bolster revenues,” Sutton said. “We wanted to take safeguards that when we get those revenues we don’t just find new and exciting programs to start up and spend that money.”
The cap, however, can be overturned by future legislators.
It’s a promise, like the promise to allow the sales tax to sunset, that Dove said legislators should never have made.
“We got the very best deal that we possibly could for the taxpayer,” he said. “But you should not make promises you are physically unable to keep.”