Capitol Update: ‘Today is a day of reckoning’

To keep our readers better informed about the state government actions that impact our communities, we feature an update column each Monday from one of 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:

Rep. Melissa Rooker
Rep. Melissa Rooker
Adjourned since April 2, the legislature is in the final week of spring recess. We will reconvene on April 29 for the Veto Session and much heavy lifting lies ahead, as we have not yet dealt with tax or budget issues. At some point later today, the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) will release their new revenue forecast, and this will determine the scope of the work that needs to be done by the legislature. CREG is composed of representatives from the Division of the Budget, Department of Revenue, Legislative Research Department, and one consulting economist each from the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Wichita State University.

Much is riding on these estimates, as they will address the remainder of this fiscal year ending June 30, and give guidance for FY 2016 as well. Their work is based on leading economic indicators, employment data, population trends, spending trends, current law and receipts for a variety of revenue streams. Word is the forecast will be a game-changer for the state. Although a national economic recovery seems to be picking up steam, Kansas is lagging behind. Many still insist the tax cuts are working and call for more time for that effect to be felt, however the state by law cannot run a deficit. It should be noted that the budget proposal currently on table does not balance, nor does it reflect the budget for the judicial branch or the education block grants, as these are in separate bills.

The challenge ahead is complex. Many of us have been calling attention to the structural imbalance embedded in our tax code with the 2012 tax plan, a plan that had massive cuts but no pay-fors. I have been sharing with you the problems state agencies face as they try to do more with less, the dire situation our schools find themselves in, and the danger of keeping the state general fund budget afloat through fund transfers, bonding (borrowing) and accounting tricks. Most of you recognize the situation for what it is and have been very supportive. You recognize the importance of maintaining excellence in our public schools, high-quality roads and other infrastructure, and the need for balance between property, sales and income taxes. Thank you. Some of you disagree, and that’s fine. I am always intrigued by your opinions and appreciate hearing from all of you. We are in this together and I am committed to standing up for good government, responsible fiscal policy, and common sense solutions to the problems Kansans face.

Today is a day of reckoning. Will the estimates show a healthy, growing economy or will they be yet another indication that we are moving in the wrong direction? How will the legislature choose to respond? This is one of those rare occasions when I hope I’m wrong, but fear that I’m right. Stay tuned.