- Associated Press - Saturday, November 26, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Some lawmakers have expressed concern over Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to wait until January to fix the state’s $349 million budget deficit.

The three governors who preceded Brownback used their executive authority to make cuts before the Legislature convened when the state faced financial difficulties. And until this year, Brownback had done the same multiple times, The Wichita Eagle reported (https://j.mp/2fzC6KE).

But the Republican’s decision to wait this year has rankled lawmakers of both parties, who say that will exacerbate the problem.

A spokeswoman for Brownback, however, said the governor “intends to submit a budget proposal in January that makes significant cuts unnecessary.”

“It is interesting that legislators who campaigned on protecting core functions of government from spending cuts are now criticizing the Governor for refusing to cut K-12, higher education, social services, and public safety,” said Brownback spokeswoman Melika Willoughby.

Willoughby also said in an email that Brownback’s budget will make furloughs and layoffs unnecessary.

Some lawmakers are concerned, however, that the governor will opt for a one-time solution like selling off the state’s future proceeds from a tobacco settlement or delaying or reducing payments to the state’s pension fund.

“I’m sure the governor’s going to bring that back,” said Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, the vice chairman of the Senate budget committee. “He’s got a one-time money, short-term fix that he wants the legislators to agree to.”

Denning added that the Republican caucus needs a long-term solution to go with any one-time spending measure.

Brownback needs legislative approval to sell off the tobacco proceeds, which is used to fund programs that provide health care, literacy education and other services for low-income children, according to Annie McKay, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, an advocacy group.

McKay said using the tobacco settlement would be a “desperate, panicked move” that would permanently decimate “a system that supports Kansas’ youngest and most vulnerable citizens” for a one-time fix.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, sent an email, obtained by the Eagle, that asked the Republican Senate caucus to join her “in calling on the Governor to lead and use this opportunity to implement necessary cuts this fiscal year.”

The governor doesn’t have to wait for the Legislature: He has the power to make across-the-board cuts if the state is on pace to end the fiscal year with less than $100 million in its general fund, as well as targeted cuts if the state is on pace to have an ending balance of less than zero, which it currently is.

“It’s unprecedented and highly irresponsible for the governor to just basically punt,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, the Legislature’s longest-serving member. “Or maybe I should describe it as an onside kick because he is deferring to the Legislature.”


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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