TOPEKA — A task force appointed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback suggested Tuesday that Kansas end its monthly reports showing how well tax collections compare to projections of how much money the state expects to bring in.
The task force included the proposal among a series of recommendations for making revenue projections more accurate. They included stronger economic modeling, better information-sharing among agencies and industry participation in the forecasting.
Kansas has struggled to meet revenue targets and balance its budget since GOP legislators slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging as an economic stimulus. Tax collections were nearly $45 million less than anticipated in September and fell short of expectations for 32 of the 45 months — 71 percent of the time — since the first of those tax cuts took effect.
For at least several decades, monthly comparisons of tax collections against projections have provided a look at how the state's budget is faring. But they've become a political problem for the term-limited governor's allies, with his fiscal policies a major issue in legislative races ahead of the November election.
Task force chairman Sam Williams, the former CEO of a Wichita-based marketing and advertising agency, said the proposals will make the estimating process more trustworthy. He said the state would publicly report more details about what data goes into the projections while issuing monthly reports comparing actual tax collections year-to-year.
"I would encourage you, as you report this," Williams told reporters during a Statehouse news conference, "to do the same thing we as a working group did, and that is to get out of the current reality and get up to what we're trying to do."
The state's current revenue projections are produced in the fall and revised again the following spring by legislative researchers, Department of Revenue officials and the governor's budget staff, along with university economists.
While Brownback's administration is going ahead with the measures for better economic modeling and agency information-sharing, legislative researchers would have to sign off on changing the monthly reports on tax collections.
Budget Director Shawn Sullivan acknowledged that Brownback's aides will have to work through issues raised by reporters during the news conference, such as what information lawmakers would receive.
But state Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, was wary of the proposals, particularly the change in the monthly tax collection reports.
"Clearly, this is an effort to get that out of the news because it has been bad and probably will continue to be bad," Kelly said.