Credit or blame?

Who’s the winner here?

Gotta wonder how this little scrap between Gov. Laura Kelly and the leadership of the Kansas Legislature is going to work out…politically, that is.

Who gets credit, or who gets the blame, for whatever happens in Kansas for the next few months, while the coronavirus pandemic fades out this summer or strengthens for the fall and winter?

Now, it was a good move by the Legislature to pass a budget for the state before taking off for the coronavirus/Spring Break first adjournment in March. The money for the basic operations of the state are taken care of, or at least were taken care of when lawmakers broke up. Practically, lawmakers did the one vital thing they are tasked to do each year, pass a budget.

But now that it has passed, many parts of that budget which were scheduled for some fine-tuning this spring are still waiting for that fine-tuning. You know, those programs – especially for social services for kids – are law, but the funding is not officially dedicated to those programs. It can probably be taken care of with some inside-the-agency funding juggling, but in some cases, those outlines of programs that sound good to all of us aren’t specifically financed. So, they might or might not be done. It’s one thing to set up an advisory board to take care of children and those in need of social services, it’s another to actually put the money there.

And while legislative leadership last week at the Legislative Coordinating Council meeting didn’t pinpoint when, or whether, to restart the session for a few days to put the budget on more sound footing and to actually appropriate money for some programs, it’s looking almost like a scrap between those leaders and the leaders of House and Senate budget committees who want to fine-tune the budget and make sure that in the midst of a $1.2 billion shortfall sparked by the coronavirus life is changed as little as possible in Kansas.

Leaders? They want everyone safe, of course, and with about 60 percent of the state’s legislators at particular risk from COVID-19, that makes some sense, even if those legislators stand for election this fall.

And the budget folks? Well, they tend to be a little…how to say this nicely…fussy about every dollar sign and decimal point.

The alternative, if lawmakers don’t return to toughen up that budget that now includes necessary spending nobody really considered when they were headed for their cars figuring that their office plants would still be green, if a little limp, on their now-postponed return this month, well, the governor essentially juggles the budget.

Oh, the governor is coming up with a budget amendment, but if there aren’t any legislators in Topeka, she won’t need to print many copies of it, will she?

Much shifting of money caused by that shortfall because folks aren’t out spending money and paying taxes may be done by Kelly. She can, depending on the presumed ending balance for the upcoming fiscal year, make across-the-board cuts and shuffles – called allotments — in her executive branch agencies.

Or, she can say that the deficit is going to be so severe that she can take advantage of her authority that in the face of an unconstitutional below-zero dollars ending balance to make allotments in every corner of the state’s spending. That spreads her potential cuts and reappropriations beyond just the agencies her Cabinet secretaries run, but into the Judiciary and Legislative budgets. That makes everything really serious if you happen to be a legislator…

What gets cut, who gets the responsibility for those cuts to programs nearly everyone wants…oh yes, and who tells the Legislature how much money it can  spend on itself?