Kansas could have $905 mil­lion in ex­tra rev­enue

The Wichita Eagle - - News - BY JONATHAN SHORMAN jshorman@wi­chi­taea­gle.com

Pro­jec­tions show that Laura Kelly, the next gov­er­nor of Kansas, is likely to have more than $900 mil­lion in ad­di­tional rev­enue avail­able to spend this year.

Kelly, a Demo­crat, has promised to boost fund­ing for ed­u­ca­tion, the state’s child wel­fare sys­tem and other key ar­eas. But she’ll need the sup­port of a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture to turn her pri­or­i­ties into re­al­ity, and some GOP lead­ers have al­ready ex­pressed skep­ti­cism over the af­ford­abil­ity of her plans.

A rev­enue fore­cast re­leased Fri­day by state of­fi­cials pre­dicts that Kansas will col­lect $905 mil­lion more than has been bud­geted dur­ing the cur­rent fis­cal year, which runs through June. Rev­enue will ex­ceed ex­penses by more than 12 per­cent, the fore­cast says.

Still, with­out other bud­get changes, the amount of ad­di­tional rev­enue gen­er­ated will fall each year, pro­vid­ing the state will have a smaller fi­nan­cial cush­ion each year. The fore­cast pre­dicts that in the next fis­cal year, the ex­tra rev­enue avail­able will fall to $722 mil­lion and $308 mil­lion in the year af­ter that.

The fig­ures rep­re­sent a dra­matic turn­around from a few years ago, when tax col­lec­tions con­tin­u­ously fell be­low es­ti­mates, lead­ing to rounds of bud­get cuts. The state’s rev­enue col­lec­tions be­gan im­prov­ing in 2017 af­ter law­mak­ers largely re­versed Gov. Sam Brown­back’s sig­na­ture in­come tax cuts.

“This is good news for our fam­i­lies and the state of Kansas. It re­flects the bi­par­ti­san work of many law­mak­ers last year to end the Brown­back ex­per­i­ment and put our state back on track,” Kelly said in a state­ment.

“As your gov­er­nor, I will con­tinue to work with lead­ers of both par­ties to keep our state on the road to re­cov­ery so we can in­vest in our schools, ex­pand Med­i­caid and bal­ance the bud­get with­out new taxes,” she said.

Gov. Jeff Colyer, a Repub­li­can, who re­mains in of­fice un­til Kelly takes over in Jan­uary, said the new rev­enue fore­cast puts Kansas in a bet­ter po­si­tion to lower taxes, fi­nance ed­u­ca­tion and make other “crit­i­cal in­vest­ments” in the state.

The new rev­enue fore­cast comes just three days af­ter Kelly’s elec­tion. Repub­li­can lead­ers im­me­di­ately re­acted to her vic­tory by ex­press­ing skep­ti­cism that Kansas can af­ford her agenda.

Adding ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing to ac­count for in­fla­tion — a move sought by the Kansas Supreme Court — could cost be­tween $50 mil­lion and $100 mil­lion a year. Es­ti­mates vary on the state cost of Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion, but it could re­quire at least $26 mil­lion a year.

Kelly has also spo­ken often of re­duc­ing the sales tax on food. Kansas cur­rently taxes food at the same rate as other goods — 6.5 per­cent — in ad­di­tion to lo­cal sales taxes.

House Speaker Ron Ry­ck­man, R-Olathe, said Kelly had promised vot­ers a “free lunch” on the cam­paign trail and vowed to hold Kelly to her pledge of no new taxes. Se­nate Pres­i­dent Su­san Wa­gle, R-Wi­chita, pre­dicted Kelly would be a lib­eral spender and said Repub­li­cans will act as a check on her pro­pos­als.

“When you give more to K-12, you starve all the other needs that state govern­ment has,” Wa­gle said.

Asked di­rectly on Fri­day about the Repub­li­can skep­ti­cism, Kelly said she wants to work with Repub­li­cans and Democrats.

“By elect­ing me, Kansans have also made it clear that they want bi­par­ti­san­ship,” Kelly said dur­ing an in­ter­view on Kansas City pub­lic ra­dio sta­tion KCUR.

She said in the same in­ter­view that she is “very sure” Kansas will have the money avail­able to fund the ad­di­tional ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing, adding that “I fully ex­pect the Leg­is­la­ture will co­op­er­ate” on adding the fund­ing for in­fla­tion.

De­spite the skep­ti­cism of Repub­li­can lead­ers, some Repub­li­cans have also worked closely with Kelly in the past.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedg­wick Repub­li­can who chairs the Se­nate’s bud­get com­mit­tee, shares Kelly’s view that state govern­ment has been un­der­funded in sev­eral ar­eas.

“I think we’re go­ing to con­tinue to be con­ser­va­tive on the bud­get, and at the same time, we also have ar­eas that have been ne­glected for some years,” McGinn said.

Kelly will have to wait months be­fore act­ing on her pro­pos­als. She doesn’t be­come gov­er­nor un­til Jan. 14 — the same day the Leg­is­la­ture re­con­venes in Topeka.

TRAVIS HEYING The Wi­chita Ea­gle

Gov­er­nor-elect Laura Kelly thanks sup­port­ers dur­ing an elec­tion-night party at the Ra­mada in Topeka on Tuesday night.

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