By early October each year, the agencies of state government are busy calculating their budgets for the next fiscal year. Scores of agents and bureaucrats are involved, figuring costs and revenues of departments and domains throughout the executive, judicial and legislative branches.
Appraisals and estimates, one division and one office at a time, flow in bits and pieces to the governor’s office for review by the budget director and a dozen analysts. The final accounting in late December becomes what is known as “the governor’s budget.”
The budget document, roughly 900 pages, is published (on line only) in two volumes; it is a balance sheet of income and outgo, a blueprint for the cost of state government. This year it covers fiscal year 2025 ‒ from July 1, 2024 through June 30, 2025.
The governor presents a budget plan to the legislature in early January. The legislature has roughly 90 days to examine the document, make changes, offer alternatives. This involves a lot of arguing among political tribes and two of the three branches of government ‒ the executive (headed by the governor), and legislative (Speaker of the House and Senate president). When the governor is a Democrat and the legislature is dominated by Republicans, fireworks can be expected. The judicial branch (courts) looks on with an arched eye.
Usually by mid-May, the legislature and governor have come to terms and a budget is passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by the governor.
This year the quarreling began even before Gov. Laura Kelly submitted her spending blueprint. This is expected. Billions of dollars are at issue, a conjunction of plans and proposals that impact the lives of every Kansan ‒ the price of groceries and gasoline, the schools and colleges they attend, the roads they drive, the health care they need, the taxes they pay, and that’s for starters.
It’s odd that news reports about the budget rarely ‒ if ever ‒ mention the money involved, the total spending or how it compares with prior budgets. The reports are usually about one program or another, their political strain and chances for success. The money involved is ignored, the big picture unmentioned. This hints that few legislators and fewer reporters have actually read the budget.
The state budget comes in two parts:
(a) Total spending: The governor proposes $26.5 billion overall. This is a $1.3 billion, five percent increase in actual and estimated spending of $25.2 billion this year. This includes all revenue sources, federal grants and aid, user and license fees, interest payments and so forth.
(b) The operating fund: Within that $26.5 billion, the governor proposes an $11.2 billion general fund which pays the government’s day-to-day operating expenses. This is a 13 percent ($1.3 billion) increase over the current $9.9 billion and reflects proposals to invest roughly half a current $2.8 billion surplus in tax cuts, reforms and incentives.
Debates focus heavily on the operating fund ‒ often called “the budget” ‒ because it is financed chiefly by state sales and income taxes. Lawmakers are well aware that the operating fund can gain or lose force with each adjustment of taxes, and with each quiver of the Kansas economy.
(Next: Parts of the total)