NEJC Capitol Update: ‘The cuts being made are now causing real harm to core functions of state government’

To keep our readers better informed about the state government actions that impact our communities, we will be featuring regular update columns each Monday from northeast Johnson County’s elected officials: Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf. Rep. Rooker submits this week’s update:

Last week in Topeka, as my grandmother used to say, “the chickens finally came home to roost.” Decisions have consequences, as do elections.

Melissa Rooker 2014The decision to radically alter our tax code in 2012 and 2013 has left the state with a staggering fiscal crisis. Champions of those tax cut plans promised a shot of adrenaline to the state economy. Those of us who fought against the changes enacted warned of structural imbalance that would create challenges in an environment where the budget must balance. It is most unfortunate to be right in this case.

The legislature was forced to pass a rescission bill, H sub SB 4, to move money from a variety of funds into the state general fund, and implement across the board cuts to state agencies, so that the state can pay its bills in the short-term. An amendment offered during debate to soften the blow to KDOT was voted down (I voted in favor of it). No other option existed that could have generated immediate cash, and therefore we really had no choice but to pass this legislation.

As drastic as the rescission bill is, it was not enough to close the budget gap we face this fiscal year. The governor announced additional cuts on Thursday, this time directly cutting education funding. K-12 will see a decrease of 1.5 percent and higher education will see a decrease of 2 percent, effective March 7 and applying to the current fiscal year. The cut to K-12 comes directly out of Base State Aid Per Pupil, amounting to a decrease of $41.75 per pupil across the board (a total of $1.4 million for SMSD). Without the rescission bill, education was in the crosshairs and these cuts would have been much deeper.

With 5 months left in fiscal year 2015, it is entirely possible that these cuts will not be enough. We cannot continue to ignore the harsh reality that the state is not taking in enough revenue to meet its obligations. Proponents of the tax cut plan now say it will take time – however, economic reality proves we are out of time. Proponents of the tax cut plan also say that we need to cut our budget and live within our means – however, the cuts being made are now causing real harm to core functions of state government.

On Saturday at a public forum, one of my Republican colleagues commented that it is unrealistic to think that the state budget is impervious to inflation and related it to the cost of milk being more today than it was 20 years ago. The response of the Kansas GOP was to say “drink less milk,” pointing out that “2014 voters told elected officials they want less government.”

I am curious, do you agree? Do you mind that by cutting state funding to our schools, your recent vote to increase local funding was rendered moot? Are you in favor of delays to maintenance of our roads and bridges? Gutting funding targeted at early childhood education programs? A shortage of state troopers and corrections officers? Denying state employees a wage increase for 8 years and counting?

It is easy to speak in a hypothetical sense about shrinking the size of government, but if your court system or the DMV have to reduce their hours, can you live with that? If the size of your child’s class cannot be reduced, is that okay with you? I am curious if you care that state agencies are struggling to maintain adequate levels of service to the public in the face of the budget cuts being made.

As your elected voice in Topeka, I need to know. What is it you would like to see?