From MainStream Coalition
May 8, 2017
No movement last week
Last week, the Kansas Legislature accomplished very little. Budget issues waited in the wings and school funding got some pretty obvious advice from their $50,000 advisor (“More money is needed to resolve school funding”), while tax reform issues struggled to gain any traction. Several proposals and votes were scheduled, but withdrawn, several meetings arranged then cancelled. Witness, the most significant work done on tax reform was yet another flat tax proposal.
One bright spot
One significant piece of legislation did manage to advance. A Senate committee moved a bill to repeal concealed carry in Kansas hospitals. Last week, Governor Brownback asked for $24 million to help buy metal detectors and hire security so Kansas hospitals could comply with the concealed carry law effective July 1. The overwhelming response from the public was to point out that repealing this dangerous concealed carry provision would be $24 million cheaper. And the Senate committee acted on that response by moving the bill. Now we have to see what happens.
But nothing happened on the three biggest issues: school funding, tax reform, and the budget.
What’s the hold up?
There’s still a lot we don’t know going on behind the scenes. Here’s what we understand. Various reports have indicated that legislators are in “negotiations” with Governor Brownback, implying that he has reiterated his intention to veto just about any tax reform that crosses his desk. That requires that any measure be “veto proof” before moving forward, and the Governor still has enough allies left after the 2016 elections to make that difficult. The tax reform bill passed earlier in the session failed to overcome the Governor’s veto by 3 votes in the Kansas Senate. Since then, it has become clear that even that measure would not have raised enough money to fill the hole caused by the Governor’s 2012 tax policies.
A tax reform bill today would need to raise more money than the tax reform bill that already could not muster enough support.
What can we expect?
Short of re-doing the 2014 election that kept Brownback in office, there’s not much to be done but compromise. That is, if the intent of legislators is to come up with a solution. Without compromise, there is the possibility that this process could result in an unconstitutional school funding bill, and an unbalanced (and thus unconstitutional) budget bill, and little or no tax reform. That could precipitate the worst outcome, the Governor slashing spending further, and the Courts closing schools. The Court, in the absence of a suitable solution, could also bring back the most recent constitutional plan, the original school spending formula from several years ago. But that would still leave it drastically underfunded, and it is unclear what would happen then.
So… compromise? That would involve making hard choices, and not just the ones we warned about at the start of the session. Then, we told you that the legislators we had elected to fix Kansas would have to make difficult decisions: to raise taxes, mostly. We urged you to support them in those unpopular votes. And you have.
Now though, if they are to break what looks to be an impasse, they may have to make bitter choices, seeking the greatest good over a principled stand that ends up hurting Kansans. This is when we wish we could sit in on some of these private meetings and conversations, so that we could better understand what the choices are, and better translate those for you. But failing that, we can watch, ask questions, and hold our legislators accountable.