"We don't even have enough money to pay our bills, and it all goes back to the governor's tax cuts."
For Duane Goossen and Annie McKay, it's a race against financial self-destruction.
Goossen, senior fellow at the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, and McKay, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, have been traveling around Kansas to speak on behalf of Rise Up Kansas. They go around discussing the state's ongoing budget woes, and what the consequences could be if the state doesn't find a sustainable way to balance its finances. They both stopped in to McPherson recently to further their cause.
"We're basically broke right now," Goossen said. "We don't even have enough money to pay our bills, and it all goes back to the governor's tax cuts."
Goossen has been a long-time critic of the personal income tax cuts Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback championed in 2012 and 2013, saying the drop in revenue caused an immediate budget deficit that continues to this day.
"People can't operate like that, and the state can't either. You can't take in less than what we owe and survive," Goossen said.
Since the tax cuts were implemented, Kansas has used savings and reserve funds to shore up the gap between tax revenue and expenses.
The state has also reallocated money from highway funds.
The problem is, in a way, compounded by court rulings that Kansas is not adequately funding schools. If the state fails to allocate more money to public education by June 30, schools may not open for the 2017-2018 school year.
McKay said this is especially troubling, because investing in early childhood provides a strong long-term return in the form of increased productivity, higher quality of life and lower crime.
"The path we pave for Kansas kids will determine the future of our state,” she said. “If we want a healthy state, we must invest in children and education."
But that's hard to do when the state is struggling just to pay the bills.
Legislators attempted to address the issue early in the current legislative session with a tax increase that would raise $1 billion over two years, but were unable to overcome a veto from Brownback.
"Probably all legislators understand the real difficulty in the financial situation, and that something must change," Goossen said. "Passing that bill would have put the state in a much better position."
Goossen and McKay believe that unless the state does something quickly to balance the budget, Kansas and Kansan children will suffer. When comparing 2013 and 2015 fourth-grade reading proficiency scores, Kansas’ scores stayed about the same but dropped from 13th in the country to 30th compared to the scores of other states.
"When we look at where we're at now, we see we're balancing the budget on the backs of kids,” McKay said. “It's time to abandon the governor's failed tax policy."
The state has yet to pass a budget for the coming year, and is still working on a new formula for school funding. Both items must be completed before July 1.
Goossen and McKay encourage Kansas to contact their legislators and encourage them to find a permanent budget solution — a solution Goossen and McKay say starts with repealing the Brownback tax cuts.
"Kansans by and large have figured this out, and they're unhappy," Goossen said. "We want to help them understand and urge lawmakers to get this fixed."
Because budget changes take time to have a real effect, Goossen and McKay are pushing for Kansas to balance the budget now. A couple of votes could mean the difference.
"Kansas want this done. There's a strong majority of legislators who want this done," Goossen said. "The governor's impeding that, so lawmakers just need to work together and push this through."