Boys (and girls) are back in town
OK, they’re back in Topeka now, choosing between which lobbyist’s dinner offer seems best,
rather than reaching around you at the meat case of the local grocery store looking for a good
deal on hamburger. Yes, it’s 2020 and the Kansas Legislature is back in business.
Much of these first few days will be settling in, finding out what new restaurants have opened in
Topeka, and waiting not quite breathlessly for Gov. Laura Kelly’s Wednesday evening State of
the State Address, and on Thursday getting the real meat of the session—her budget.
Expect that Medicaid expansion deal she’s made with Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-
Overland Park, to be the lead, and most legislators – especially Republicans – are going to be
listening to just how Kelly describes the bill, and whether she manages to convince lawmakers
that she made some concessions to the Republican No. 2 man in the Senate. That’s important for
Kelly picking up GOP votes for the deal and for moderate Republicans (not Senate President
Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who opposes the whole issue) to assert that they didn’t just take
dictation from the Democrat governor, but actually hammered (pillow-fought?) the deal.
And then there’s that reamortization of the most politically important piece of the Kansas Public
Employees Retirement System (KPERS). Kelly, as have previous governors, is suggesting that
the $6.8 billion in unfunded liability of the teacher/state employee portion of the pension fund be
re-amortized. That’s simply issuing bonds that will bring the fund to what they call “unfunded
liability” which is what it’s going to cost to provide those pensions. That unfunded liability is
essentially a promise of pensions that the state doesn’t have the money on hand to pay.
Republicans generally don’t like the re-amortization, which though it will cut year-to-year
budget transfers to KPERS, includes lots of interest on that new re-amortization. Republicans,
especially, don’t mind getting interest, but don’t like paying it. Look for that to create a loud,
long fight this year.
And that re-amortization also frees up money in the governor’s proposed budget that means more
money to spend…which she likes.
Medicaid and re-amortization are the big-dollar issues, but both are hard to make into exciting
bullet points on a campaign brochure.
So…we get to the sexy stuff that people buy bumper stickers to champion.
There’s abortion, of course, which the Kansas Supreme Court says is a constitutional right in
Kansas no matter what the federal government does, and abortion opponents want a Kansas
constitutional amendment—if they can’t just remake the Kansas Supreme Court—to end
abortion in Kansas.
And there’s guns, of course, always a political G-spot in election years. This year gun activists
have targeted the state’s “red flag” provisions which so far haven’t been used publicly to have
police seize the firearms of those who have threatened spouses, companions, or who have
evidenced mental instability that may threaten others.
Nothing like a gun fight to divide the Legislature and the voters who send those legislators to
Topeka for the winter.
Medicaid, budget, KPERS, guns, abortion. Those are just the leading issues, but there are dozens
of smaller items on the menu, like sales tax on groceries and how to get it back to the state’s
poor? And of course, the state is still muddling through that December 2017 federal tax law,
which boosted the Kansas income tax of some Kansas-based international corporations and tied
Kansas individual income taxes to federal standard deductions, costing the upper-middle class
millions in lost Kansas tax deductions.
Oh, and of course, there’s figuring out how to vote on those issues, and explain it to voters this