Archive for Thursday, April 17, 2003

State budget woes need real solutions

April 17, 2003

It's business as usual in Topeka, and that's not a good thing. The Legislature in the middle of a three-week recess before returning to work April 30 to start work on the so-called wrap-up session, an archaic term suggesting lawmakers only need address a few details before leaving the Capitol for the years.

In fact, the Legislature has an enormous task ahead as it tries to sort out the state's budget problems. In an honest recognition of the challenge, the Legislature realigned its schedule to give it more time to deal with the budget during the return session.

If only such honesty would be applied to the basic problem: a $235 million gap in state revenue and spending. To meet the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, both Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Republican legislative leaders have proposed plans Eudora's State Rep. Rob Boyer characterizes as "tricks and gimmicks." The plans don't address the underlying problem but use bookkeeping maneuvers to postpone the consequences to the future. The governor's plan would balance the budget by accelerating tax collections, selling bonds and expanding legalized gambling. Republicans countered with a plan that would delay tax returns and postpone the last state payment to school districts until the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

The Republican Boyer, whose announced a willingness to consider tax increases make him a rarity in Topeka, likes the GOP leaders' tricks and gimmicks better, and he is probably right. But it, too, fails because short of a sudden turnaround in the state's economy, there is no reason to think next year will be better. The Legislature and two governors have already used a variety of tricks to skate by the last two years. They are running out of tricks to deal with the problem. Add to that next year is an election year for the House and Senate, making lawmakers even more reluctant to deal with the issue in a real way.

State residents need to take advantage of the recess to give lawmakers the backbone to deal with the budget honestly. Its clear a package of spending cuts and tax increases are needed to make to deal with the deficit. They may be painful, but further delay and dishonesty will only make the consequences worse.

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