Legislature looks for fiscal efficiency to massage budget



October 7, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Kansas legislators agreed to spend $2.6 million for a fiscal efficiency study of state government.
Alvarez & Marsal, a national firm with an office in Kansas City, had the third lowest bid among four, but was picked because, among others, House Speaker Ray Merrick said the firm was best equipped for the task. Such a judgment is not unusual — and, to be realistic, $2.6 million is a pittance when weighed against a budget in the $14 billion range.
The firm will perform a diagnostic analysis of the state’s budget, evaluate the budget process and make recommendations for savings. Incidentally, the Legislature is exempt from the study, the Associated Press reported.
A legislative committee, not Gov. Sam Brownback, decided on Alvarez & Marsal, and Sen. Laura Kelly, Topeka Democrat and a member of the committee, assured its member received no political pressure from the governor, to whom the firm donated money the past two elections.
The fervent hope of all Kansans should be the firm will find avenues first to cover what it is being paid, and then to pare costs of state government in a harmless manner. That also surely is the hope of Brownback and the legion of legislators, Republican in particular because of their unbridled influence, who struggled mightily to find a means — ultimately, a sales tax increase — for Kansas to meet its mandatory cash-basis law with the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. Also important is that more fiscal skirmishes are forecast when the 2016 session opens in early January.
Lower farm and oil prices are burdens that will be financial thorns for budget preparation, along with a daily stream of Kansans, on behalf of schools, health and social considerations and others, who will give lucid accounts of how they have been jilted in their efforts to do what is good for Kansas and Kansans.
The most recent month’s tax revenue was $31 million short of estimates, and employment gains have not been as forthcoming as expected.
Thus, if Alvarez & Marsal can find ways to reduce spending that are more than cursory and cosmetic, it will be helpful when debate on FY 2017’s budget hits the frontburner. The task will be difficult and, from an outsider’s view, one that could be destructive if those of tax-cutting moods don’t shed their Machiavellian approach to governance.
— Bob Johnson

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