Archive for Wednesday, March 20, 2002

House leaders discuss budget cuts

March 20, 2002

The sunflower state's budget isn't what it used to be.

According to state projections, Kansas is approaching a budgetary shortfall of about $750 million.

House Speaker Kent Glasscock, R-Manhattan, and House Appropriations Committee chairman Ken Wilk, R-Lansing, talked to reporters during a conference call Thursday.

"We're in a position in which in order to balance the budget without new revenue, we will have to cut public schools tremendously, cut aid to cities and counties tremendously and cut higher education funding tremendously, including community colleges," the speaker said.

The alternative, Glasscock said, is to raise taxes.

"The people are beginning to come to grips with the reality," Glasscock said. "I think one of the most troubling aspects of this is that most Democrats are not prepared to make a tax increase at this point."

Despite that, Glasscock said he thinks an increase in income tax and sales taxes may come.

"The income tax didn't do real well earlier in the week, but it's not off the table," Glasscock said. "Clearly, sales tax has some buoyancy and it could be a reality when the Democrats begin to unlock and vote for tax increases."

Wilk stressed that the idea of a possible tax increase should not be taken lightly.

"Raising taxes is not easy, nor should it be easy," Wilk said.

Wilk said he believes the majority of Kansans would be more accepting of a tax increase than of a cut in services.

"Last night I literally had a mailbox full of letters in regard to long-term care begging me to take care of nursing homes," Wilk said. "The volume of mail was unusual."

Glasscock said it should be the state's goal: "To pass a budget that is not draconian and that does not undercut our system of education in Kansas."

But as things stand now, Wilk said, education will take a hit.

"When you've got two-thirds of your budget that goes to K-12 and higher education, there's just no way that we can exempt those folks from a deduction," Wilk said.

One area where budget cuts must be precise are the state's prisons, Wilk said.

"There's only so much you can do there without jeopardizing the safety of the entire institution," Wilk said. "It's the same thing in the state hospitals Larned and Parsons those are 24-hour operations there, you can't go in there and jerk out a bunch of money and maintain the safety that you think needs to be maintained."

Legislators say the state's transportation plan, too, could fall short of money.

"It is on life support," Wilk said, "And if we don't pay some attention to that, we are going to lose the 1999 transportation plan. We just can't go off and completely forget about that initiative."

Whatever happens, Wilk said the state's budget must be balanced: "There's a difference between state and feds we can't deficit spend we don't print money."

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