Less than one week after Kansas voters narrowly reelected Gov. Sam Brownback despite the disastrous budgetary consequences of his massive tax cuts for the wealthy, state analysts announced Monday that the state's fiscal outlook is even more dire than initially realized.
We've known for some time that Brownback's supply-side experiment has been a big budget-buster. Thanks to the governor's tax cuts, Kansas collected $330 million less revenue than expected for fiscal year 2014 -- $700 million below revenue for fiscal 2013. Despite the Brownback administration's assurances that the state's fiscal picture would improve -- any day now! -- the state's revenue from July to September came up an astonishing 10 percent short of expectations.
The numbers released yesterday are even worse.
Kansas' revenue forecasts have once again proven far too rosy, with revenue estimates for the current fiscal year now $205 million lower than they were in April. State officials now say that lawmakers will need to slash $278 million in spending no later than June to balance the budget. Moreover, the state's reserve fund -- which contained $379 million just four months ago -- will be completely depleted, forecasters say. To avert a deficit in the next fiscal year, lawmakers will also have to cut an additional $435 million from a $5.9 billion budget, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports.
"Sam Brownback spent the last six months lying to the people of Kansas. He knew all along that his fiscal experiment had bankrupted our state," state Sen. Anthony Hensley, the Democratic minority leader, said in response to the new numbers. "Now he and his followers will get exactly what they wanted -- to starve public schools, to raid the highway fund and to cut the social service safety net that so many Kansans depend on. All of this for the sake of his own reelection and political aspirations," he added.
As things currently stand, state funding for Kansas public schools remains 15 percent below pre-Great Recession levels. Adjusting for inflation, per-pupil spending has declined $861 since 2008, while the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that of 47 states, Kansas ranks fifth in the size of its cuts to education since the recession. It's unclear whether lawmakers will be legally allowed to gut education funding even more, given an impending state Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the state's education funding.
The conservative response to the new figures has been nothing if not predictable.
"The new revenue estimates only highlight the continuing need to protect core services while streamlining state government. We do not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem," Republican state House Speaker Roy Merrick said.
As I've written before, what makes Brownback's experiment so repugnant is that the governor and his supporters knew full well that a reckoning was coming. In the final analysis, Brownback & Co. share Grover Norquist's goal of shrinking the government to the size that it can be drowned in the bathtub. Last Tuesday, 50 percent of Kansas voters gave them the opportunity to do just that.