Capitol Update: Kessinger says legislature is ‘headed in the right direction’ on balancing budget

Rep. Jan Kessinger.

Each legislative session, we provide the Shawnee Mission area’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Cindy Holscher, Rep. Jan Kessinger, Sen. Pat Pettey and Sen. Barbara Bollier are scheduled to send updates this week. Here’s Rep. Kessinger’s filing:

The legislature is in crunch time. Most committee work is complete and full committee work will be done by Thursday this week.

In the Appropriations Committee, we passed out a budget with the caveat that education funding will need to be changed. We plugged in the original fiscal year 2019 budget figure to give us a fair picture as to where we are as we look at all other factors in the budget.

Needless to say, K-12 education funding impacts everything. There are some who say anti-education funding wants to drive up funding for education in order to position it for dissection when education funding is formulated. That will position education as the cause for cuts in all other services.

In Appropriations, we worked hard not to do that. Tough cuts were made, while key increases were set aside for consideration at Omnibus. Some legislators viewed revenue performance above projection as a “free shopping” card, but most in the committee worked to rein in spending. The result has been a budget that allows for education funding without increasing taxes…as long as a workable long-term formula can be worked out.

The recent study commissioned by the legislature to determine exactly what suitable funding for schools will be came back with a targeted price tag that caused sticker shock in every corner of the capitol.

One side of the funding argument was prepared to discount the findings of the study, expecting a small recommendation. The other side of the argument were cautiously preparing to embrace the findings as proof that funding was adequate already, or nearly so. The study surprised both sides and, frankly, probably isn’t a realistic figure to hit – certainly not in one swoop.

So, will a workable formula come to pass? It is possible if we can bring the plaintiffs to agree to a plan that, over a rollout time period, we can increase funding in a manner that works for state budgeting without tax increases and also allows schools to prepare for the additional funds.

We are in a crunch for time and frankly, the entire process is convoluted. We have prepared the budget, excepting funding for schools. We were awaiting the study and now the study is beyond what we can do in any one year. The courts have issued a deadline for our response that is well-beyond the April 17, income tax deadline for this year. We will not have a good handle on revenue until May, or thereabouts.

It is difficult to budget when you don’t know how much money there is to allocate. It is doubly hard when the biggest expense has not been identified. Over the next few weeks, the education budget committee, coalitions of legislators on the right, left and middle and leadership will all be maneuvering to put together what each group perceives to be the ideal.

Regardless of outcome, this budget is a huge improvement over the years of “borrow and spend” budgets that worked with a bad tax plan and seldom adjusted spending to correspond with the tax policy. In 2017, the legislature restored sound fiscal policy and it will take a few years to claw our way out of the hole that the prior six years had dug.

I do not anticipate any further tax increases and I foresee some creative and cooperative solutions to come to produce a budget that fully funds education on a multi-year plan while we also work to improve funding for social services, infrastructure and fully fund KPERs for state employees. We aren’t where we want to be, yet, but we are headed in the right direction now.