Too quiet?

Syndicated to Kansas newspapers April 17, 2017

Martin HawverStill two weeks before the Legislature returns to Topeka, so the Statehouse is virtually empty of lawmakers…a few stopping in to check the mail or maybe just hoping to find a lobbyist to take them to lunch.
But this next two weeks are all about what is necessary in the legislative wrap-up session, what is possible, and whether we’ve seen enough sparring to determine who’s going to do it.
That what is necessary, of course, has two components—putting together a budget and putting together a school finance formula that the Kansas Supreme Court has demanded by July 1.
You don’t have a budget until you see how much money you need and figure out where to get it, and you don’t have a school finance formula until the Supreme Court says you do.
Key to everything is the Thursday meeting of the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG); sometime Thursday afternoon, reporters start looking at the Statehouse, to see if a white puff of smoke has gone up, signaling that CREG has met, presumably bargained with each other in the rarified argot of economists, and come up with revenue projections. Or, if it’s windy out, we’ll get a notice of a meeting time at which the CREG estimate will be released.
Those economists and revenue specialists and whomever else gather somewhere secret in the Statehouse look at revenues from whom and what, and assemble the revenue estimate which the Legislature uses to assemble a budget and figure out how much money the state needs to finance those services that the state provides us taxpayers.
And…while that revenue business is being juggled, there’s still that formula for making sure that children from border to border have equal access to school programs and the chance to get a good education, and that roughly 25 percent of Kansas pupils who aren’t performing well academically for whatever reason get the assistance they need to emerge from high school ready for a job or vocational education or higher education.
Then, there’s still that issue about expanding Medicaid under the in-the-GOP-gunsights Affordable Care Act which will provide health care to maybe 150,000 poor Kansans. The Legislature passed a bill, remember, to allow Kansans to get that health care, the governor vetoed it, and the Legislature didn’t override the veto.
So…along with the state’s fiscal issues, there are Kansans who aren’t getting health care, and can’t work because of illnesses or might spread those illnesses to Kansans who can afford health insurance but come into contact in everyday life with those who can’t. Sound like a problem that needs a solution, or at least enough votes to override a veto?
But, it’s quiet this week and you don’t have to thread your way through the halls bumping into lawmakers who are having learned the physical lay of the land here are still learning the political lay of the land.
It’ll be next week that lawmakers start diagramming the catch phrase sentences they will use to talk about taxes, budget, schools, Medicaid and a range of other issues that they must solve or figure a way to delay until next year before they can call this session to a halt.
Is there a plan here? Well, so far, it doesn’t look like one is going together. We’ve had three months of a legislative session where we have learned that legislators aren’t enthusiastic about a flat rate income tax to raise whatever money they are going to learn this week that they will need. Oh, and the governor isn’t enthusiastic about taxing LLCs and those other corporations that if their founders were smart enough to label their profits as “non-wage income” don’t pay income tax.
But clearly, if the Legislature doesn’t come up with a plan that the governor will sign into law, well, there’s always pulling money out of the Bank of KDOT, as the Kansas Department of Transportation has become known because it just takes a few minutes for the governor to sweep its sales tax receipts from roadway-building into the State General Fund for general government use.
Look for the frustration, the taxes, the spending and the schools to take center stage May 1 when lawmakers return.

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