The governor also warned that more cuts could be made to Medicaid and the higher education system if the Kansas Supreme Court orders an additional $40 million or more in school funding. A ruling is pending on whether a school funding measure that passed earlier this year provides equitable funding to the state’s 286 school districts.
Some Kansas agencies escaped the cuts: the Department of Corrections, the Kansas Highway Patrol, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and state hospitals. A provision in the bill also prohibited Brownback from slashing the more than $4 billion in aid to K-12 public schools.
The plan, as the state stares at a $290 million shortfall this year and in the fiscal year beginning July 1, includes cutting $185 million from the highway fund, which was announced last month, and over $97 million from most state agencies. State universities and most Medicaid provider rates will be reduced by 4 percent, but exempts providers that care for people with mental illnesses or disabilities and almost 100 hospitals in rural areas.
Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since GOP lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging in an effort to stimulate the economy. Legislators sent Brownback a budget bill this year designed to shift most of the work of balancing it to him after he refused to back off key cuts.
Cindy Samuelson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Hospital Association, said that the cuts will encourage some providers to withdraw from the Medicaid program, which offers health care to poor and disabled residents.
“These cuts will threaten access to care for all Kansans and they will place an additional burdens on already financially stressed hospitals,” Samuelson said. “For some of those smaller hospitals, any cut can be threatening.”
The plan also cuts more than $30.6 million from the higher education system, with the University of Kansas and Kansas State University shouldering over half of that.
Kansas’ state universities are calling for tuition increases of up to 5 percent, at least for now. The universities submitted their tuition proposals Wednesday to the Kansas Board of Regents, but the slash in funding was higher than the universities had expected.
Kansas State, Wichita State, Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State each propose a 5 percent increase for the coming academic year. The University of Kansas and Emporia State seek a 4 percent rise. The regents will vote on the proposals next month.
Senate minority leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat from Topeka, said the budget bill placed an unfair burden on Kansas State and the University of Kansas and it was a politicized move.
“They smack of political favoritism, because KU and KState are represented by Democrats, Democratic legislators, and the other institutions aside from Wichita State, which is represented by both … are represented by Republicans,” Hensley said.
Shawn Sullivan, Brownback’s budget director, said the cuts leave an ending balance of $21.5 million for this year and $87.5 million in the 2017 fiscal year.
“These were not easy decisions, but the governor developed a plan that protects public safety, supports our state hospitals and maintains our ability to provide government services without interruption,” Sullivan said.
Hensley disputed that the governor prioritized public safety.
“He would rather protect income tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of Medicaid recipients and hospitals,” Hensley said.
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