Kansas is a mess! It’s what you get when state government goes full-blown Tea Party.
After the 2013 fiscal year, Kansas had around $700 million in the state’s reserve fund. Then Governor Sam Brownback’s tax cuts went to work.
The governor had promised his tax cuts would lead to a better, wealthier Kansas. As he put it,
We put forward a roadmap for Kansas. It’s a plan to grow our economy, it’s a plan to create private-sector jobs, it’s a plan to excel in education, it’s a plan to support our families, it’s a plan to move forward. We campaigned on the roadmap, we won on the roadmap, we will govern on the roadmap.
He even imported Arthur Laffer, the man who invented “trickle-down” economics, to sell it to the
suckers, I mean citizens. The story line was that in eliminating taxes for 200,000 businesses and slashing the tax rates for the wealthy, businesses would flock to Kansas, creating jobs and more disposable income. Thus they would make up the difference in sales taxes. While all this was transpiring, Kansas would keep the budget balanced by cutting unnecessary expenditures in areas like social services, infrastructure, highways and education.
For the 2014 fiscal year, tax collections came in $333 million short of expectations. The Kansas legislature had cut $150 million in those “unnecessary expenditures,” but total collections were down $700 million from the previous year. The state had to raid the reserve fund to the tune of $320 million to balance the books.
In May, Moody lowered Kansas’ credit rating from Aa1 to Aa2, citing sluggish recovery and risky tax plan. In August, Standard and Poor’s followed suit by lowering Kansas’ bond rating from AA+ to AA, citing the state’s unbalanced budget caused by the 2012 tax cuts.
This year is even worse. Even wiping out that $380 million remaining in the reserve fund, Kansas is coming up $279 million short. According to the Kansas constitution, the books must be balanced and they’ve got less than three weeks to do it. The bell tolls at midnight, June 30.
Oh, and next year the shortfall is expected to be in the neighborhood of $800 million and the reserve fund cupboard is bare!
Brownback’s solution actually has some tax increases in it. He wants to raise cigarette taxes to bring in an additional $81 million and booze taxes for another $27 million. And, of course, more cuts of those “unnecessary expenditures.” Medicaid gets hit for $50 million and education for $100 million.
Wherein lies a major problem.
In spite of his “plan to excel in education,” a good percentage of the “unnecessary expenditures” were in education. The way education funding was handled, brought him into conflict with the state’s court systems. It seems there’s a provision in Kansas’ constitution that requires education to be properly funded.
In March, 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court found that there was a disparity between funding schools in rich and poor neighborhoods and told the legislature to fix the problem ASAP. They also instructed the district court to examine the under-funding issue. In December, the district court ruled the schools were under funded. The judges said that per pupil spending should be between $4,654 and $4,980 per year. Currently, the states spends $3,846.
Early this year, the state legislature, in which Republicans enjoy a “super majority,” passed a bill which created equitable funding for the schools at the expense of increasing over-all funding. This sent the issue back to district court. The supreme court is expected to rule on both issues sometime later this year.
Some of you may recall from American History 101, that the US has three branches of government that are supposed to provide checks and balances. Co-equal in theory, if not always in fact, it has served pretty well over the long run. Kansas has much the same system. However, it may not for long.
It seems that Brownback doesn’t like his pet pipe dreams challenged, and by damn, he’s teaming up with the legislature to do something about it. If the judicial branch keeps throwing spanners in the works, he’s going to strip them of some of their powers, prerogatives and funding.
After the court’s March ruling, the legislature passed a blantantly political bill, striping the supreme courts ability to set district court budgets and appoint district chief judges.
This February, a district court chief judge sued the state of Kansas, arguing that the bill violates the doctrine of separation of powers and is unconstitutional.
Last month, legislators drafted a separate budget for the courts. The budget has a provision that would eliminate all funding for the courts if any court has the audacity to find their bill striping the courts unconstitutional or invalidates it in any way.
The Kansas City Star was not amused!
Threatening to defund the state’s court system is a vengeful and dangerous tactic. Basically, lawmakers are attempting to extort Supreme Court justices to rule in the Legislature’s favor or be shut down.
Conservative Kansas lawmakers have been disrespectful of the state’s courts and judges since rulings on school funding and other matters didn’t go their way. But their willingness to deprive Kansas citizens of a working court process is shocking.
So, there you have it. The legislature is in overtime (at $43,000 a day) trying to make money appear that isn’t there. And, next year portends to be a LOT WORSE! The Republican controlled branches and the judiciary are at war with each other. The business and wealthy tax refugees never showed up. In fact, Brownback’s whole financial scheme turns out to be just a scam.