Kansas Democrats are fighting back against what they say are "unheard of" budget cut proposals and a predicted revenue shortfall from which the state cannot recover.
Following Gov. Sam Brownback's (R) instructions to state agency heads to cut 10 percent from their budgets to prepare for problems "beyond our control," state Democrats are warning of a drastic impact throughout the state. The debate comes as the state prepares for the implementation of a tax plan adopted this year, which includes dramatic personal income tax cuts and the elimination of most business taxes.
"That is an unheard of -- to have that much of a cut to state agency budgets," state Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) told The Huffington Post. "It is a sign of the times because the income tax bill will reduce our general fund."
Hensley was citing projections from the nonpartisan Legislative Research Department, which projected that the tax cuts, adopted during the spring legislative session amid accusations by Democrats that conservative Republicans rushed the final vote, could lead the state to a $2.5 billion shortfall on a $6 billion budget by 2018.
"We can't recover from that," Hensley said. "We won't have significant economic growth to make up for that."
Brownback's office told the Lawrence Journal-World that the agency-cut proposal was preparation for a potential economic catastrophe from outside of the state and not due to the tax plan.
“However, there are things agencies can do to reduce costs and streamline their offices without impacting services," Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag told the Journal-World. "The governor has asked state agencies to prepare contingency budget plans should something happen to the country and world economies that are beyond our control.”
Jones-Sontag did not return messages for comment left by HuffPost regarding the tax plans. Brownback and GOP legislators have said the tax cuts will generate new jobs, which will grow the economy. The governor, who was advised by supply-side economics guru Art Laffer in designing the plan, said the state's economy is in a position to handle the cuts.
But Hensley said his projections show the job creation would not happen. "You'd have to create 400,000 new jobs to make up that deficit," Hensley told HuffPost. "There is a great deal of concern."
Hensley noted that the state would also lose other tax revenue that makes up the bulk of the $500 million budget surplus. He said the temporary sales tax hike, signed in 2010 by former Gov. Mark Parkinson (D), is due to expire in 2013 and will likely cause a loss of $350 million in revenue for the state.
Brownback's move comes a week after the state legislature's conservative Republican faction-- which was backed by the Koch brothers and supports the governor -- scored a big win in GOP primaries for state Senate seats, seizing control of the chamber from moderate Republicans who had been working with Democrats.
Hensley painted a picture of dramatic cuts in services across state government under the potential 10-percent budget cut, and future cuts if the $2.5 billion shortfall is realized. Brownback has said in the past that he wants to preserve education, public safety and social services. But the state's transportation department stands to lose 500 employees under the 10-percent cuts just as a new transportation construction program is due to start. The transportation plan is funded by both the state's capital and general fund budgets.
"It is almost like the governor and his folks are oblivious," Hensley said. "We would have to cut education, social service. We passed a transportation plan that can create 135,000 new jobs and that would be reduced. It will really negative impact the services the state provides."