By Dave Seaton
January 11, 2016

Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, painted a dark picture of future state budgets here Saturday, and he blamed it on what he called “money laundering” by Republicans in Topeka.

Trimmer recalled that the state had missed revenue estimates in every month but one this year. He predicted a shortfall of $14 million by June 30 and a shortfall of $175 million by the end of the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Trimmer accused Gov. Sam Brownback and the new conservative Republicans who dominate the legislature of trying to cripple state government. “To me it’s a strategy to get government so ineffective that it can’t do anything,” Trimmer said.

The governor’s press spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, responded by saying slowing the growth of government spending to only 1.8 percent per year is “hardly crippling state government.” We want to grow the economy, she said, not the size and scope of government.

Trimmer made the comment at a meeting of Women For Kansas, Cowley County at the Community Council Room. About 25 people, most of them women, attended.

Trimmer is up for re-election to a fifth term this year.

At the same meeting, Don Shimkus of Oxford, who is an announced candidate for the Senate seat now held by Sen. Steve Abrams, introduced himself and said he was running “because I couldn’t sit by and watch the carnage any more.”

Shimkus, a Democrat, is president of the Kansas Association of School Boards. Abrams is a two-term Republican from Arkansas City.

Shimkus said he was running to change the “unfair tax system” and because “they are trying to privatize public education.” He is also running because the legislature is letting Kansas’ “most vulnerable citizens languish without health care.”

Shimkus is a long-time Oxford school board member and is currently president of that board.

Abrams said today he himself was not out to make every public school private, but he acknowledged others might be. “For 22 years I have supported private education, home education and pubic education,” Abrams said. “I want to make public education better.”

Trimmer said in order to hide holes in this year’s budget, one-time sweeps from other funds were built into it. Those sweeps included $400 million from the highway fund and $9 million from the Children’s Initiative Fund, which is endowed with its money from the tobacco settlement.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, said the later sweep came on top of sweeps of $42 million earlier in 2015. As the governor’s office insisted, she said, the earlier sweeps did not hurt current early childhood programs, but the later one did, cutting some 6.5 percent from 20 early childhood block grants.

A million dollars were swept in 2015 from the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs, which operates the Kansas Veterans’ Home at Winfield, Trimmer said.

Budget makers may be able to sweep another $400 million from the highway fund for next year, according to Annie McKay of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, but she implied that will be the end of major sweeps to shore up the budget.

Gregg Burden, director of the commission, said no programs were cut as a result and “we’re still providing the same level of services.”

But he wondered about what will happen this year.

The road ahead is daunting, according to Trimmer, but Republicans may sidestep it.

He predicted the governor and the leaders of the legislature would simply try to ignore the impending budget disaster. In this election year, “they’ll stay really quiet and hope you forget about what happened last year,” Trimmer said. The focus will be on social issues with electoral appeal, he added.

Shimkus, too, saw trouble ahead.

“Our state’s headed in the wrong direction and we need to do something about it,” he said. Reading a card with the principles of Women For Kansas, Shimkus noted the group, which supports tax fairness, public schools and welcoming immigrants, also supports the arts. A musician, Shimkus said if he had his way, he would give higher priority to the arts.

Shimkus works at a music store in Andover and repairs instruments. He is a woodwind player. His wife Keri works at CornerBank in Winfield.

Pam Moreno hosted the meeting Saturday. She said Women for Kansas now has 11 chapters across the state.

Read more from the Winfield Daily Courier.