Uncle Sam bankrolled a third of Kansas spending in 2013


BIG TALK: While Kansas’ elected officials preach self reliance and fiscal prudence, more than a third of all monies spent by the state in 2013 came from the indebted federal government.

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — On the home front, Kansas’ elected officials talk a big game about self-reliance and prudent fiscal governance, but last year more than a third of all dollars doled out by the Sunflower State came directly from the woefully-indebted federal government.

Should Kansas put its money where its mouth is and lessen its leaning on Uncle Sam’s wallet? State Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, says yes — to a point, at least.

In FY 2013, Kansas spent more than $13.9 billion. Of that, about $5.2 billion, or 37.6 percent, was awarded by the feds in one form or another. While the statistic peaked at 47.8 percent in FY 2010 in the wake of the Great Recession, it’s still higher than the state’s 2007 low of 32.6 percent ($3.9 billion) just before the national economic collapse.

Suellentrop, House Appropriations Committee chair, said without extensive research it’s hard for him to comment on Kansas’ reliance on federal dollars.

“It is interesting how much there is in the way of federal funds in the funding of state government, but you know we have a citizen-run Legislature and it is challenging to sit and research on how something like this is in comparison to other states,” Suellentrop told Kansas Watchdog.

Rep. Gene Suellentrop

Rep. Gene Suellentrop

“To do a good, fair analysis some of those things need to be examined, and I don’t know that I’ve got enough time to go look all that up,” he added.

A study released in March by State Budget Solutions did just that by examining federal funding as a portion of overall state revenues. Looking at data from 2001 to 2012, Kansas ranks low in terms of federal dependence compared to states like Mississippi or Wyoming, which drew more than 40 percent of all state revenues from the feds on average.

But while Kansas actually decreased its share of federal monies over the timespan by 2.51 percent, study authors Bob Williams and Joe Luppino warn the overall trend is on the rise.

Growing reliance on federal funding in state budgets is a dangerous trend. It threatens the financial stability of all 50 states, as well as the federal government. As federal debt skyrockets, Congress must look for ways to reduce spending. In the many states that count on the federal government for over one-third of their general revenue, every congressional spending reduction proposal puts the state at risk of a serious financial shortfall.

States must recognize that this funding arrangement also harms fiscal federalism. Federal funding usually comes with strings attached, and that means less chance for local control. When states cannot stand firmly on their own financial footing, they will lose the ability to make the best, locally-based, independent decisions for their residents.

However, Suellentrop said Kansas has already taken a stand against perceived runaway federal spending in the form of its opposition to Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.

“That’s not a popular stance, as you well know,” he noted. “Every paper throughout the state beats up the administration and all of us for not expanding it.”

So what would it take for Kansas to decrease its reliance on federal purse strings? Suellentrop said it could be done, but it’s not a simple answer.

First and foremost, he said Kansas shouldn’t issue a blanket objection; Suellentrop wants to make sure Kansas receives a fair amount in proportion to the level of tax revenue feds draw from the state.

But the real key to the matter is restructuring things at the top to reduce costs. Namely, Suellentrop said, getting the federal government to hand over things like interstate management — and the accompanying funds drawn from the gas tax — to the states, while leaving the feds just enough to manage administration.

“The states that use the money correctly, like Kansas, will have good highways. The ones that don’t, won’t,” he said, adding that states could be significantly more efficient than the sprawling federal government. “We’d have more money than we’d know what to do with.”

While Suellentrop couldn’t give a direct answer whether Kansas’ reliance on federal funding is good or bad, it has certainly caught his attention.

“You’ve provoked an interest in me to find out how we compare to surrounding states or comparative states,” he added.

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