Governor says latest budget cuts to hit ‘basic services’
Topeka Gov. Mark Parkinson announced another round of budget cuts that officials said would mean more state employee layoffs, unpaid furloughs, crowded classrooms and bigger holes in the social service safety net.
“The cuts we are making now are to basic services,” Parkinson said of his $259 million in budget adjustments announced Monday.
Presiding over the worst revenue drop-off in state history, Parkinson apologized to the people who would be affected by the cuts, and urged Kansans who were doing well “to dig deep” and contribute to churches and charities.
Parkinson refused to say whether he would push for a tax increase in the 2010 legislative session, which starts in January. “We will analyze all our options,” he said.
Battle lines form
The cuts, which were made to balance the current fiscal year budget, represent the fifth round of reductions since the state fell into a deep recession.
This year, approximately $1 billion has been cut from what was once a $6 billion state budget.
The battle lines over the budget morass have clearly formed with one side urging consideration of a tax increase, or closing some current tax exemptions.
“We cannot overlook the nearly 100 tax cuts enacted by this Republican-controlled Legislature over the past decade in explaining how we got into this situation,” said House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence.
But the anti-tax group, Americans for Prosperity of Kansas, applauded the budget cuts, and urged Parkinson to ignore calls for a tax increase, saying that would hurt Kansans as they try to survive the current economic difficulties.
Meanwhile, people who are affected by the cuts weren’t happy.
Jane Carter, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said “state workers are bearing the brunt” of the budget cuts.
A 12-day furlough, she said, is equivalent to a 5 percent pay cut. While the demand for state services has increased, she said, the number of state employees to provide those services continues to fall.
Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Davis said furloughs were more likely in the judicial system because Parkinson is recommending only partial funding to fill an $8 million hole in the judiciary budget.
“What does this mean for you?” Davis said in a letter to judicial employees. “It is impossible to know for certain at this time, but this turn of events increases the likelihood of at least some period of involuntary unpaid leave,” he said.
Schools cut, suit threatened
Both public schools and higher education were sliced back to 2006 levels, an important mark because going below that could jeopardize millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Parkinson cut public schools on Monday by $36 million, in addition to not funding the $156 million needed to compensate for increased schools costs. Since last year, base state aid has been cut from $4,433 per pupil to $4,012 per pupil.
“Some districts will be forced to lay off teachers and close schools,” Parkinson said.
Nearly 70 school districts have joined a coalition that is considering a lawsuit against the state because officials have reneged on court-ordered school funding increases.
Parkinson urged the schools to be patient and not sue, although he conceded that the quality of public school education will decrease under the cuts.
Higher education hurting
In addition, Parkinson cut higher education by $2 million, bringing this year’s cuts to $106 million or 13 percent.
“The system has certainly shouldered its fair share of the state’s budget burden, and we’re now beyond the point where cuts are undermining the quality and quantity of the education our institutions are able to offer,” said Kansas Board of Regents Vice Chair Gary Sherrer.
Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said KU was relieved the cuts this time weren’t bigger — but added the overall reductions this year have damaged the school.
“Already, the University of Kansas has sustained significant cuts, leading to a reduction of 200 teaching and staff positions,” Gray-Little said.
“Those reductions translate into fewer course offerings for our students, larger classes and reduced enrollments in key areas such as nursing and engineering. We have also seen these budget reductions impact efforts to obtain National Cancer Institute designation, as we’ve had to scale back efforts to recruit top faculty and researchers who are vital to this and other important research programs,” she said.
Parkinson also cut Medicaid reimbursements to doctors by 10 percent, and pleaded with physicians to continue treating Medicaid patients. He also reduced highway maintenance funds by $50 million.
Other areas that were cut will mean more Kansans with disabilities will be waiting for home-based services, and a reduction in the supervision of released prisoners.
Parkinson’s plan also shifts $85.9 million in federal stimulus funds from the next fiscal year to current one, which will increase the budget hole next year.