Restoring full $8 million for Kansas water programs harder than turning a faucet

Rep. Troy Waymaster, left, and Sen. Carolyn McGinn, who chair the House and Senate budget committees, will await revision of state tax revenue estimates in November to assess whether cuts to the State Water Plan can be restored. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Rep. Troy Waymaster, left, and Sen. Carolyn McGinn, who chair the House and Senate budget committees, will await revision of state tax revenue estimates in November to assess whether cuts to the State Water Plan can be restored. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Five governors and the Kansas Legislature have collaborated for more than a decade to ignore state law requiring allocation of $8 million annually to support policy and programs aimed at maintaining the state’s water supply.

It doesn’t look as if 2020 will be a watershed year in terms of financial relief.

The Legislature and Gov. Laura Kelly agreed to appropriate $6.9 million this fiscal year to support the state water plan, but the governor responded to a projected revenue shortfall by slashing $1.1 million allocated to the Kansas Water Office. It’s not clear if 2021 Legislature and Kelly have wiggle room to restore that money in the next year or so.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said much would depend on the November update of state tax revenue forecasts. In April, economists and state officials said Kansas could expect to collect $1.2 billion less over a two-year period than previously anticipated. Kansas is constitutionally prohibited from operating deficits.

“I think we’re going to know a lot more then,” McGinn said following the Kansas Water Authority’s briefing Tuesday.

Rep. Troy Waymaster, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said monthly state tax revenue collections had surpassed expectations despite the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be spending reductions in the revised state budget, he said, but determining what parts of government absorb those blows will be part of next year’s debate in the Capitol.

“It could be restored,” Waymaster said. “Some of it? Yes.”

Connie Owen, chairwoman of the Kansas Water Authority, told members of the interim House and Senate budget committee, that for about 30 years the state had been obligated to annually invest $6 million from the general state treasury and $2 million from gaming revenue in support of water programs.

The state water program hasn’t received the full statutory appropriation since 2008 when Kathleen Sebelius was governor of Kansas, Owen said. Neither Govs. Mark Parkinson, Sam Brownback, Jeff Colyer nor Laura Kelly — two Republicans, two Democrats — have been able to end the practice.

“Over the history of the State Water Plan fund, the cumulative deficit of the reduced transfer is approximately $81 million,” Owen said. “The Kansas Water Authority has struggled to balance the competing needs and requests for the State Water Plan fund and identify which programs and practices will provide the biggest return on investment.”

The water plan depends on state tax revenue as well as $12.3 million annually from municipal and industrial fees, pesticide and fertilizer registration fees, pollution fines and penalties as well as sand royalty payments started in 1996 and a clean drinking water fee initiated in 2008. In the current fiscal year, the water authority budget was set at $18.7 million before Kelly imposed July spending cuts.

 

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.