By Jonathan Shorman
November 29, 2016

Gov. Sam Brownback said Tuesday he hasn’t been working with lawmakers as he develops his proposal to close a $350 million budget shortfall.

The governor also refused to say whether he will pursue securitization of tobacco settlement funds that pay for children’s programs as a way to snag a large, one-time cash infusion for the state.

“No, no. This is an internal budget development, and we’ll put it in front of the Legislature,” Brownback said when asked at a news conference whether lawmakers are involved in budget discussions.

A revenue forecast released this month saddled the state with a massive budget shortfall that Brownback and the Legislature must confront. The administration has said the governor will wait until January to put forward a proposal and won’t make cuts before then.

His decision not to act marks a departure from previous administrations. Past governors in the modern era who faced budget shortfalls after the November revenue forecast have taken action before the Legislature convened.

“We haven’t ruled anything in or out,” Brownback said. “We just started putting things together.”

Yet the Brownback administration over the past week has, in fact, been ruling out ways to address the shortfall. Spokeswoman Melika Willoughby said last week that the budget proposal would make furloughs and layoffs of state workers unnecessary. She also said the plan would make “significant cuts” unnecessary.

Several hours after the news conference, Willoughby said that while Brownback is still in the decision-making process, the budget proposal won’t include layoffs, furloughs or major cuts. She said there are steps to building a balanced budget.

“It’s a genuine lack of leadership on his part,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. “Not only legislators, but the people of Kansas, should be very concerned this governor is not leading at a time when our state is in desperate trouble financially, and it’s all on account of his failed tax policies that he’s led our state down a road of ruination.”

Brownback’s waiting has fueled speculation that the unpopular second-term governor hopes to secure a job in the administration of President-elect Donald Trump and would then resign. The governor brushed away a question about whether he has spoken with Trump or his transition team.

“I’ve said this a week or two ago — I’m making no comments about anything regarding the Trump administration,” Brownback said.

Some lawmakers, including Republicans, fear Brownback will attempt to securitize — essentially sell off — the state’s annual payments that come as part of its settlement with major tobacco companies. The state would receive a large amount of cash up front, perhaps as much as $400 million, but then receive far fewer settlement dollars in future.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, slammed the idea in a message to GOP senators last week.

“Trust me; there is talk of bullying the legislature into another one time fix,” Wagle wrote. “We could be asked to buy a bottle of rubber cement and patch-it with one time funds found under a mattress, or we could be pushed into a short sale of future receipts from the tobacco settlement to make ends meet.”

Annie McKay, CEO of Kansas Action for Children, predicts the administration will pursue securitization. In a statement Friday, she said no Kansas investment, including the Children’s Initiative Fund, had escaped the state’s self-inflicted budget crisis.

“It is unconscionable to intentionally create a crisis by waiting to address the budget shortfall that has grown larger as each month has passed,” McKay said. “The governor created this fiasco with a failed tax plan and he owes it to Kansans to be part of a solution that inflicts the least amount of harm.”

“Budgets can be made whole again once failed tax policy is fixed, but selling out little kids by permanently giving away the CIF can never be undone.”

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal.