Money due

1/21/2014

State had no business turning to trust fund.

State had no business turning to trust fund.

A move to dip into a fund set aside to help offset drops in oil and gas valuations was a blow to western Kansas.

The fund allows counties to contribute a portion of their oil and gas severance taxes to be held in trust to mitigate losses in valuation, and in turn ward off property tax increases. Counties that take a hit in tax revenues, should oil and gas values fall, could rely on the trust fund.

Unfortunately, Gov. Sam Brownback recently angled for those and other funds as a way to offset lost revenue in the wake of huge income-tax cuts in the state.

Lawmakers instead settled on a cut in planned distribution payments to counties, a deal approved in the last session as part of budget legislation. But the state made a bad situation worse by accelerating its plan to reduce the oil and gas valuation depletion fund payments.

That led more than 50 Kansas counties, including all in southwest Kansas, to join in filing suit in October, claiming the state withheld some $7.6 million in payments.

Counties were due full payments in 2013, and lower amounts in 2014. Yet dollars distributed in October, and based on the previous fiscal year's severance tax collections, were well short of what the counties expected.

And now, the governor has responded by agreeing to increase payments to counties.

While that decision was welcome, this region still shouldn't have been subjected to the money grab in the first place. Keep in mind the governor had proposed doing away with the oil- and gas-fund payments to counties that would need the safety net as oil and gas valuations drop.

Trust funds wisely put aside for future property tax relief are just another casualty at a time Brownback and his ultraconservative Republican allies would shift still more of the financial burden for public education and other vital programs to already stressed rural counties.

Kansas counties demonstrated fiscal responsibility in saving for a rainy day. Such funds should be off-limits to forces in Topeka trying to fix a budget mess they created.

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