Kansas took in more money in February than already-lowered projections from last year. That set off chest-thumping by budget officials.
But hold on and look at the bigger picture.
The largest problem is that Kansas is still projected to hit a $280 million deficit by June 30. Much more revenue or spending cuts are needed to balance the budget in the short term. Plus, there’s another $600 million or so predicted deficit in the next fiscal year that begins July 1.
Yet there’s another reason to be pessimistic and realize Kansas revenues are still in the toilet.
Even the numbers paraded by Kansas officials Wednesday don’t look rosy when compared to figures from before Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 income tax cuts began decimating state revenues.
The most important data are total tax revenues through February of the fiscal year (eight months):
2017: $3.699 billion
2016: $3.681 billion
2015: $3.638 billion
2014: $3.708 billion
(before full tax cuts)
2013: $3.968 billion (inflation-adjusted about $4.175 billion)
2012: $3.763 billion (inflation-adjusted about $4.0 billion)
In other words, the $3.699 billion figure this year that’s being hailed by Kansas officials actually is just a bit ahead of the previous two years’ receipts. And it’s behind the total from the 2014 fiscal year through February.
Most notably, the 2017 figure is way behind the pre-tax cut revenues recorded through February of 2013 and 2012.
Wait, it gets worse.
We’re now far enough away from earlier numbers to start factoring in inflation. After doing that using two different calculators, I estimate that the receipts from 2017 through February actually are the lowest over that six-year stretch when based on current dollars.
The state is about $300 million behind revenues from February of 2012 and around $475 million behind those in 2013.
Remember, the Legislature has hiked sales taxes twice during this span. It has taken away several major income tax deductions. And yet revenues still don’t come close to being what they were before the income tax cuts.
That has led to billions of dollars in borrowing and using of one-time funds by a reckless governor desperate to keep his failed income tax-cut plan in place.
Despite upbeat reports from Wednesday, Kansas is in the same situation it has been in since the cuts: a huge fiscal mess, with no easy way out.