Capitol Update: Rep. Cox says there’s reason for cautious optimism in budget numbers, but big challenges remain

District 17 Rep. Tom Cox won a second term in office in November’s vote.

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. Tom Cox, Rep. Rui Xu and Sen. John Skubal are scheduled to send updates this week. Here’s Rep. Cox’s filing:

As we head into the 2019 legislative session we are looking at having a surplus in revenue instead of the usual deficit Kansas has faced since 2013. This gives rise to plenty of optimism for our state but we need to show caution as there are so many complex factors in play.

Due to poor revenue estimates we have built up around $800 million in reserves that has not been budgeted. This is a good problem to have, but there are a few factors that we must be cautious with. Our $850 million increased in K-12 spending phases in, increasing the dollar amount each year. Those increases alone quickly eat up the excess future revenue, so we cannot depend on that reserve to keep building. In short, that $800 million is one-time money to be spent, not re-occurring revenue.

There are many different ideas on what to do with this money. End the school finance lawsuit by allocating the remaining $90 million/year to cover inflation as the court requested, expand Medicaid, increase funding to departments like DCF to help fix the terrible situations in our foster care system, fund a new transportation plan, restore the rest of the cuts to higher education, reduce the food sales tax, or pay off our debt that was accrued over the years after the failed tax experiment. The problem is we can’t do them all; we might not even be able to do half of them without putting our state back into a steep deficit in two years.

We still owe KPERS $115 million in delayed payments that have not been repaid. We owe the unclaimed property fund around $350 million that we borrowed from. We bonded hundreds of millions that we are making interest only payments on and those bonds will come due sooner than we realize. These are the scarier truths that don’t always make it into newsletters and social media posts.

What we all need to go into the legislative session with is an open mind and a resolve to make difficult decisions. Having a surplus is a much better situation than a deficit, but with limited money and many needs in the state we will have to make tough choices. There will be winners and losers. The damage done to our state will not be fixed in two or three years. It is going to take a decade or longer to just get back to where we started, but I believe many on both sides of the aisle recognize this and are committed to the long-term solutions to protect our state. I look forward to working with my colleagues and our new Governor to help address these issues and move our state forward.