Forcing the state to build up cash would be hurtful

On a 32-8 vote Monday the state Senate passed a resolution to require the state to establish a reserve fund by setting aside as much as .25 percent of tax revenues every year. At current budget levels the mandated reduction in available funds would amount to about $25 million.
If passed by the House by the required two-thirds majority the resolution would go on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. If approved by voters, the amendment not only would mandate building the reserve annually, in fat years and lean, but would require three-fifths majorities to spend any of the money — which means that 41 percent of the legislators could veto what 59 percent of the members voted to do. (It really isn’t a rainy day fund if it can’t be spent when it rains.)
A common sense motion to amend the resolution to limit the set-aside to years when revenues were sufficient was defeated.
This effort to require the state to build cash reserves regardless of revenue levels and spending needs should be rejected as irrational.
Requiring a super-majority to tap the funds in rough times — such as this year and next — is an even worse idea. California is in an awful mess today because its constitution requires a two-thirds majority to pass a budget. As a consequence it has been un-able to balance a state budget for years.
Colorado also put itself in a fiscal straitjacket a few years ago with a similar constitutional amendment, which it finally had to repeal to keep its public schools open.
Kansans should learn from these frightening examples.
If the state had these requirements in place today the Legislature would have to trim about $50 million from the two budget years it is dealing with this session. The only thing standing between the stand-pat budgets likely to emerge and draconian cuts is $1.7 billion in federal stimulus money. Being forced to cut the ’09 and ’10 budgets this year just to stick money under a state mattress would strike most Kansans as insane — and they would be right as rain.
Again, mandating a super-majority to do the state’s business is almost always counterproductive. As California and Colorado learned to their sorrow, it only takes a handful of anti-tax ideologues to paralyze a legislature and prevent a state from serving its citizens well.
There is, in short, nothing good about this idea.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.