TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas collected $8 million more in taxes than anticipated in November, and one of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's top aides said Tuesday that the figures reflect positive signs in the state's economy.
But the report from the Department of Revenue came after state officials, legislative researchers and university economists significantly lowered expectations early last month for tax collections through June 2017. Also, November's tax collections make a relatively small dent in a projected $170 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins in July 2016.
"There's really no reason for the Brownback administration to uncork the champagne bottle and celebrate," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. "It's only because the bar was set so low last month that we ended up with a positive result."
Still, it was the first time since February that monthly tax collections exceeded expectations. The new, more pessimistic forecast predicted tax collections of $422 million for November, and the actual figure was $430 million, a surplus of 1.9 percent. The state has collected $2.24 billion in taxes since the current fiscal year began in July.
The state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate continued to drop in October to 4.1 percent, its lowest mark in more than 14 years. The number of private-sector jobs was 1.2 percent higher than it was in October 2014.
The Department of Revenue said both individual income tax and retail sales tax collections exceeded expectations during November.
"Individual income tax receipts continue to reflect growth and a low unemployment rate," Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said in a statement.
Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since GOP legislators cut personal income taxes dramatically in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging in an effort to stimulate the economy. Republican lawmakers raised sales and cigarette taxes in July to balance the current budget while preserving most of the income tax cuts.
Legislators also approved an amnesty program, allowing the Department of Revenue to waive interest and other penalties for anyone who paid back taxes from Sept. 1 through Oct. 15, anticipating that $30 million would be raised. But department spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda said the agency can't say yet whether the program hit the target because it is still processing paper amnesty applications.
Following the new, more pessimistic fiscal forecast — replacing one issued in April — Brownback budget director Shawn Sullivan announced $124 million in budget adjustments to prevent a deficit in the current budget and allow the state to continue paying its bills on time.
This story has been corrected to show that the surplus in tax collections was $8 million, instead of nearly $8 million.
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