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Incoming Johnson County Delegation Reacts To Depressing Revenue Numbers

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3
Self-described moderate Republicans Tom Cox, center, and Dinah Sykes, right, both won their statehouse races.

The latest Kansas revenue numbers could make it hard for freshman lawmakers from Johnson County to keep all their campaign promises.

On Thursday, state officials lowered the forecast for future tax collection once again. It’s expected Kansas will come up $350 million short this fiscal year, and $600 million next.

And instead of acting now to balance the budget, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is passing the buck to state lawmakers.

“I’m glad we got one day of rest post-election before we saw those,” says Tom Cox, who will represent Shawnee in the Kansas House, “though I can’t say they were terribly surprising.”

Cox doesn’t think Brownback knows what to cut at this point. Cox is at a loss himself.

“I heard someone say last night, ‘Well, let’s put a tax on professional services,’ or pretty much a sales tax, which I 100 percent oppose,” Cox says.

But the money has to come from somewhere.

“It will not be a fun session,” says Lenexa Republican Dinah Sykes. She ousted Sen. Greg Smith in the primary running on a pro-public education platform. “If there are places – which, it’s hard to imagine because everything has been cut and we’re at the bare bones – but we’ve got to look at everything. Nothing can be off the table.”

Except in all likelihood, education funding will be off the table.

Representative-elect Patty Markley says the Legislature will have to abide by whatever number the Kansas Supreme Court hands down in the adequacy portion of the Gannon school funding case.

“Right after the primary, I said, tongue-in-cheek, ‘Is it time for the manage expectations whistle-stop tour around the state?’” Markley says.

She says it’s “concerning but not surprising” that the governor isn’t exercising his authority to balance the budget in advance of the session.

Markley points out that even if tax reform passes on the first day (spoiler alert: it won’t), it’ll be 2018 before the state is collecting that revenue.

Which means lawmakers will be looking for yet another one-time fix, says Representative-elect Brett Parker of Overland Park.

“We started robbing money from the highway fund, we’ve cut higher education funding, we froze K-12 funding, we borrowed from KPERS,” says Parker. “If there was an obvious place to go for money right now, it would’ve been tapped.”

Parker, a Democrat, called the latest revenue report “sobering.” But, he says, he looks forward to working across the aisle with moderate Republicans in the Johnson County delegation to find solutions.

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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