For those of you who think the Kansas Legislature has gone on forever this year, think again.
Monday marks Day 68. Ninety days is typical, with the record standing at 114 days in 2015.
In other words, Kansas lawmakers have a long way to go before the duration of this session is even average. But you can count on them going at least to 90.
But in the history of the state, lawmakers perhaps have never attempted to solve so much in one of their wrap-up sessions. The agenda includes a massive tax increase to close a $900 million budget gap and a new school finance formula. Then there are the hot-button issues of guns in state hospitals and another possible vote on Medicaid expansion, which Kansans appear to support.
Never miss a local story.
These are big, meaty issues that will require time and a good measure of patience, both for lawmakers and the general public.
Gov. Sam Brownback recognized that recently when he talked to a reporter about the challenge ahead after another week of little progress on tax policy. “These are very difficult things,” he said. “It will happen. Things will pass. It will all get dealt with. But they take time.”
So true, especially this year, when the burden of paying for the governor’s 2012 tax cuts has become too heavy.
We’ve noted before that the Legislature’s political makeup complicates things. Conservatives ran the Capitol in recent years. But the 2016 elections shook things up. Democrats and moderate Republicans picked up seats. Now, it’s government by coalition, and that means compromise has become more essential than ever.
That’s an easy word to say but a difficult thing to actually put into practice.
Last week, four former Kansas governors, two from each party, released yet another of their joint statements, this one to state legislators. The letter urged lawmakers to take their time as they go about restoring Kansas “to solid financial footing.”
The time to fix the problem “is now,” wrote Govs. Mike Hayden, John Carlin, Kathleen Sebelius and Bill Graves on behalf of the Save Kansas Coalition, which comprises mainly politically moderate citizens. “We know your jobs are difficult and the challenges loom large. But half-measures and quick fixes won’t get the job done.”
We’ve urged the same thing. Papering over problems for just another year would be a mistake. A more permanent solution that would create a stable, predictable tax structure is desperately needed.
One promising solution that is easy to understand is a complete rollback of the Brownback tax cuts, a move that essentially would return Kansas to the tax code that existed prior to 2012.
“Kansans want the state’s problems fixed, and they’ve elected you to do the heavy lifting,” the governors wrote.
Raising taxes this year, then coming back again next year and raising them again would not play well.
Heavy lifting means lawmakers should reject another flat tax plan that would tax personal income at 4.4 percent, a figure that would be a significant bump for poor Kansans who now pay 2.7 percent. The poor, and everyone else, too, already pay highly regressive sales taxes on grocery store food. Adding to their burden would be grossly unfair.
Isaac Newton once said, “Genius is patience.” Lawmakers will need an abundance of both in the weeks ahead.