Gov. Kelly says she hopes to protect critical services, including education

Gov. Laura Kelly said Tuesday she believes Kansas can avoid budget cuts in critical services, including education, despite a huge revenue decline caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are cautiously optimistic that we may be able to make some strategic decisions that help offset painful cuts to critical services in the current fiscal year,” Kelly said in response to new revenue estimates that show the state will fall an estimated $1.27 billion short of earlier projections over the current and next fiscal year.

Asked by a reporter, “Is there any realistic scenario under which K-12 education won’t be cut,” Kelly responded, “I can’t really tell you that right now, but when I talk about critical services, I am including education. So we will do everything in our power to avoid making cuts to those essential services.”

Kelly said she plans to meet with State Budget Director Larry Campbell and legislative budget leaders later this week to discuss short- and long-term budgetary options. Both the House and Senate budget-writing committees are meeting via zoom this week and the Legislature is scheduled to reconvene Monday, although that may be altered because of the pandemic.

Kelly noted that the state’s ending balances should provide enough revenue to end fiscal year 2020 in the black, but that problems arise in fiscal year 2021, which starts July 1.

The new revenue estimates indicate the state could face a budget hole of about $650 million in the next fiscal year.

While Kansas has weathered budget shocks over the years, whether caused by the Great Recession or tax cuts during Gov. Sam Brownback’s tenure, the current budget problems are tied to a deadly health crisis that has forced shutting down much of the economy.

State revenues won’t rebound until the health crisis subsides enough to allow businesses to re-open. Kelly has said if conditions are right, she will lift stay-at-home orders May 3, although local jurisdictions will be allowed to continue those orders if they choose.

And Kelly noted that she expects federal funds in future stimulus bills to help states offset the economic damage of the pandemic. Even so, she said, “incredibly difficult budget decisions loom in the weeks and months ahead.”

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