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The Burdensome Job Of Directing The Kansas Budget

Matt Hodapp
KCUR 89.3
Pictured from left to right: Jim McLean, Will Avrill, Shawn Sullivan, and Sam Zeff.

Last month, the Kansas Department of Revenue reported that tax receipts fell roughly $54 million short of projections in February, a far worse performance than most anyone expected. That would have left the state with a projected $47 million hole, but Gov. Sam Brownback ordered $17 million in cuts, or 3 percent, to the state’s six Regents universities, lowering the deficit to about $30 million.

One of the people responsible for plugging those budget holes is Shawn Sullivan, who Brownback appointed the Kansas Budget Director in 2014. He joined KCUR’s Statehouse Blend podcast to discuss his time in that position and Kansas budget shortfalls. He admits tough times remain for Kansas.


“I think we have quite a bit of work to do," Sullivan told host Sam Zeff. "I think we’re on a tough road for both this year and next."

He says he expects revenue numbers to continue to be under estimates in both March and April.

“We’re continuing to see our sales tax come in $5 to $15 million less than what we had projected per month and I think that’s going to continue," said Sullivan. "Really the wild card at this point is our income tax.”

Last week, three Republican senators introduced a bill that would repeal a controversial small business tax exemption. Sen. Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park, said that exemption is costing the state at least $250 million a year. 

But Sullivan said that exemption is only partially to blame for Kansas’ budget woes. He said that a slowing economy for oil, gas, and farm commodities has also made things worse.

“There’s a lot of talk at the statehouse about the LLC (limited liability corporations) exemption,” said Sullivan, “whether that was put back on the rolls last year or this year or whatever happens with that, I think we still would be facing somewhat of the situation we’re in now.”

Sullivan said that a controversial deal to securitize some of the state’s tobacco settlement payments would also help to fill the state’s budget gaps with an infusion of cash if tax receipts continue to fall short. Those tobacco payments have been used to pay for children's programs for the past 20 years.

“I’m not going to deny it’s an option,” said Sullivan.

The budget director said it can be difficult to keep government funded while taking criticism from both those he think the government is slashing to much and those who think that the government is spending too much. 

“It is what it is and it is what I do. At the end of the day, I get to go home and spend time with four beautiful kids and my wife, and de-stress from that,” said Sullivan.

Subscribe to Statehouse Blend to keep up with the Kansas and Missouri legislatures.

Guests on this episode:

  • Shawn Sullivan, Budget Director, Kansas Legislature
  • Will Averill, Educator from Lawrence, Kansas
  • Jim McLean, Executive Editor, Kansas Health Institute

Matt Hodapp produces Statehouse Blend at KCUR. Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR. He's also co-host of KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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