Under the Dome has changed….
Everything got different last week under the Dome.
After legislators spent weeks reading and listening to news about the coronavirus, or COVID-19
as it’s called by heath experts, they quietly and with whispers learned that a member of the
Legislature who had been sneezing was tested for the sometimes-fatal disease. The lawmaker
tested negative over the weekend–doesn’t have it.
The news doesn’t get much better than that in the culture that lives under the Dome and chats
elbow-to-elbow at the third-floor Rail, and crowds into elevators and, well, generally lives in a
building only slightly less crowded than a prison yard.
No COVID-19 here, that they know of…for now…
So, what changes?
Look for legislators to want to quickly pass at least a preliminary budget bill for the rest of this
fiscal year and next year that starts July 1 for state finance purposes. Then, if the Legislature
should have to adjourn or take weeks off while the coronavirus hopefully wanes, there’s enough
money to run the state and care for and test Kansans due to this health issue. That budget could,
of course, be beefed up at the veto session which starts in late April for a final product.
But…that first budget which is very important becomes a vehicle for spending that lawmakers
want for other reasons. If they get their amendments, they’ll vote for the bill, if enough don’t,
well, their bargaining power increases dramatically. Everyone knows how that works, don’t
The budget is, of course, No. 1. But what about, say, sports gambling, or a new highway plan, or
job protection and equal rights for LGBTQ Kansans? Everything becomes a bargaining lever.
Fear that COVID-19 could shut down the Legislature, starving state government and the services
the budget provides to Kansans, probably became more real last week.
The House last week passed a resolution recognizing the governor’s declaration of an emergency
in the state. The Senate hasn’t considered it yet, but it would grant the governor unprecedented
authority to act against the disease—and authority to move money within the budget as necessary
for that protection of Kansans. That’s a lot of power for a Republican-heavy Legislature to hand
to a Democrat governor.
The effect of COVID-19 on the economy of the state is also largely unknown. Will more people
lose their jobs, will they need state-financed health care? Would expanding Medicaid, which is
90 percent federal/10 percent state-financed, provide more health care to ill Kansans and
therefore make Kansas safer for all of us?
Lawmakers get their best look at the fiscal effect of the disease on April 20, when the state’s
Consensus Revenue Estimate of just how much tax money the state is going to receive this year
and next is released.
Until lawmakers get the best estimate available of the state’s tax receipts should lawmakers cut
taxes? An election year is the politically best time to cut taxes because, well, who doesn’t want
their taxes cut? But if the pandemic disease cuts state revenues, can the state afford politically
attractive tax cuts? And for whom?
Just what lawmakers do in the next week or so may tell us a lot. They need to be confident that
the state will operate and keep us safe from disease before they adjourn the session.
But remember, this is an election year and they’ll have to guess (or maybe poll) to find what
concerns voters most.
Oh, and legislators also can’t accept most campaign contributions until sine die adjournment of
the Legislature, which closes the session for the year. And yes, some are thinking about that,