How Brownback is filling the gap

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After Kansas’ tax cuts resulted in the state losing almost one-third of its necessary revenue, budget cuts have been made in order to fill the $344 million budget deficit projected by the Kansas Division of the Budget for the June 30 end of the 2015 fiscal year.

Although numbers are not official for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, significant cuts are going to be made in many areas.

According to the Division of the Budget, the Department of Education (which oversees K-12 public schools) is facing a 1.5 percent cut in funding for the end of the 2015 fiscal year. The cuts for K-12 education total $28.3 million statewide, while higher education funding is being cut by 2 percent to help make up $16.2 million of the deficit.

Cuts to Manhattan schools total $319,705, while K-State lost $2.1 million in state funding for the university: $292,000 for the K-State College of Veterinary Medicine and $949,000 for Research and Extension, according to Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Clay, Geary and Riley County.

Additionally, the school funding formula – which is currently designed to provide extra funding to schools in poorer counties – is changing into a simpler block-form funding.

“One of the arguments is the school finance formula is too complicated, but it takes into account parts like costs of longer-distance busing, numbers of at-risk kids, special education and gifted kids, and college prep courses,” Hawk said. “There are lots of factors in that formula that take into account how to educate fairly. I don’t know how the Governor (Sam Brownback) plans to justify (removing those factors).”

The Kansas Department of Agriculture is experiencing the same 4 percent budget cut as all other departments for the 2015 fiscal year, equaling a loss of $199,668, according to the Kansas Division of Administration.

In future years, though, Kansas farmers could be more severely impacted financially by property taxes and the removal of tax exemptions on farm equipment. This would happen if Kansas legislators pass bills such as S-178. If S-178 passes, average farm land valuations would increase by an estimated average of 473 percent, according to the Kansas Department of Revenues.

“I don’t think (the tax bills) will pass, but I didn’t think the income tax cuts would pass either,” Hawk said. “If they increase the ag land property tax, it’s going to put many farmers out of business.”

In order to make up for the general cuts, many state programs (such as agriculture education within schools) are being eliminated. Water, too, could see a tax increase of 10 cents per 1,000 gallons, according to Rep. Sydney Carlin, D- Pottawatomie and Riley County.

“The water tax would be a good resource, but would get swept into the general fund to pay the bills (rather than going into agriculture),” Carlin said. “We’re in dire times – this may be the only time we’ve had this much trouble. Our ag programs are down to thin lines on paper or are gone.”

The Kansas Department of Transportation is seeing a projected cut of $7.8 million for the end of the 2015 fiscal year, according to the Department of Administration. These cuts will not affect previously-announced projects, but could delay smaller construction plans such as renovations to older rural bridges.

Additionally, over $95 million of the State Highway Fund is being transferred to the general fund.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Johnson/Miami County, said she is concerned about how the cuts to transportation will affect Highway 68, which is in need of expansion to decrease fatalities. That being said, Baumgardner noted the project will take a long time to get rolling even if the cuts weren’t happening

“Even if the budget transfers hadn’t occurred, Highway 68 still would not have four lanes; (the project would) take two (to) three years from start to finish,” Baumgardner said.

Baumgardner is also concerned with funds being used differently than how they are allotted, particularly within education. For instance, even though $129 million of public school funding was agreed upon, only $66 million actually went out, she said.

“I know (legislators) are spending time on the issue trying to figure out where the money is being spent,” Baumgardner said. “I think you’re going to see some real changes as focus occurs.”

Several Kansas State Collegian reporters attempted to reach the governor’s office for comment, but were met with varied success; they were either told Gov. Brownback was not available for official comment, or were directed toward previously-released statements to have their questions answered.

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