Brownback budget plan targets bioscience fund, corrections, highway patrol
TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback's administration Wednesday outlined his plan for balancing the state's budget and filling a projected $175 million revenue shortfall in the next fiscal year.
The governor's budget plan would make no substantive changes to funding higher education, including funding for Kansas University and the KU Medical Center. And it includes only a minor cut in K-12 education, due mainly to higher-than-expected property tax collections and lower-than-expected costs for contributing to school employee pension plans
But it does include a number of other spending cuts, fund transfers and accounting changes, including a proposal to liquidate the portfolio of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, to make up for shortfalls in sales, income and severance taxes that have threatened to put the general fund in red ink.
"Because it's the second year of a two-year budget, it's really trying to find ways to plug holes," said Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, who serves on the Senate budget committee. "We can't do it through our ending balance, so we are really grasping at straws to find money that we clearly need. And we are not addressing many of the shortfalls that we are hearing exist."
For example, she said, the governor's budget does not include funding to hire more troopers in the Kansas Highway Patrol, which currently has at least 80 vacant trooper positions. Nor does it include funding for pay raises at the Department of Corrections, which has suffered from staff shortages and high turnover rates among guards in the state's prisons.
Some of the key changes Brownback is proposing from the Fiscal Year 2017 budget that lawmakers approved last year include:
• Shifting $44.1 million in tobacco settlement revenues out of the Children's Initiative Fund directly into the State General Fund, then using federal welfare money known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, to fund some of the programs previously paid out of the children's fund.
The administration says that will not result in any funding changes for programs and services that are expecting to receive Children's Initiative Fund money.
• Transferring another $25 million out of the state highway fund into the general fund.
• Privatizing the Kansas Bioscience Authority by liquidating its stock assets and depositing that money, estimated at $25 million, into the general fund.
• Reducing funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, by $25.5 million, replacing that with enhanced federal matching funds for that program.
• And reducing spending on mental health drugs in the Medicaid program by $10.6 million with a "step therapy" program that requires patients to try lower-cost generic drugs first, before they're allowed to use name-brand drugs.
KU Vice Chancellor Tim Caboni said that, given the state's financial situation, the university has no complaints about the governor's proposal.
"We’re pleased with where the session has started," he said, noting that if the governor's budget passes, it will be the third consecutive year of "stable" funding for the university.
But he also noted the governor did not recommend one item the university had sought: pay raises for Medical Center faculty, which KU says are needed to recruit and retain top researchers and teachers.
"It’s the beginning of a long session," Caboni said. "We're going to continue to talk about the needs for raises at the Medical Center. But overall, we're starting at a pretty good place."