Kansas' governor doesn't plan to propose deep budget cuts again to avoid a deficit and said Thursday that he opposes further reductions in education spending.
Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson confirmed that he's considering revenue-raising measures. But he stopped short of saying he'll propose ending tax exemptions or seek a general tax increase after the Republican-controlled Legislature convenes Jan. 11.
Parkinson said during an interview with The Associated Press that he's hoping a second federal stimulus package now being considered by Congress will ease the state's budget problems. And he hopes the economy will improve more quickly than state revenue forecasters expect.
The governor's comments set up a conflict with many GOP legislators, particularly House conservatives, who believe the state should continue to cut spending. But Parkinson said cuts this year damaged programs and threatened the state's education system.
"We cannot afford a mediocre school system," Parkinson said. "Our excellence is at risk, and we are drifting toward mediocrity, and mediocrity is not acceptable."
Kansas has had five rounds of spending cuts and other budget adjustments this year to avoid a deficit when the current fiscal year ends June 30. Parkinson imposed the last round in November, nearly $260 million worth.
Now, the state's general tax revenues cover about $5.35 billion in spending for the current fiscal year. That's almost 12 percent less than in the previous fiscal year, though the state is using funds from the first federal stimulus in February to close much of that gap.
Parkinson said the state still faces a potential budget gap of $300 million for fiscal 2011, which begins July 1. Some estimates are higher.
Besides education, Parkinson said he'll protect most other parts of the budget, including the prison system and reimbursements to health care providers under the state's Medicaid program. Both have seen cuts in the past.
Educators, advocates for the needy and some of Parkinson's fellow Democrats want to close exemptions to the state's sales tax and eliminate past business tax breaks. Parkinson said he's willing to consider a general tax increase as well.
"There are a variety of sources of additional revenue, all of which we're looking at," Parkinson said. "The one option that is not on the table is to cut education any more."
Many Republicans argue that raising revenues, either by closing exemptions or with a general tax increase, will slow the state's economy recovery and hurt struggling families.
"This is a terribly, terribly short-sighted approach," said House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican. "It's a terrible time to be thinking of a tax increase."
Education is at the center of the budget debate because aid to public schools and higher education funding consume two-thirds of the state's tax dollars.
Public schools have seen their base state aid drop this year by $421 per student, or nearly 10 percent, to $4,012 _ lower than it was for fiscal 2006.
But Republican conservatives note those figures don't take into account tens of millions of additional dollars for special education and programs for at-risk children. The state's 295 school districts also collectively had $175 million in emergency reserve funds when the fiscal year started, as well as other yet-to-be spent operating dollars.
"There's not a budget in the world that can't be reduced more," Merrick said.
On the Net:
Kansas governor: http://www.governor.ks.gov
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org