The Kansas Legislature is expected to spend another dreary day Thursday trying to figure out a way to close a $900 million, two-year budget hole while spending more on the state’s schools.
Several tax-and-spend alternatives have gone up and down the flagpole since May 1, when lawmakers gathered for the so-called veto session. So far, no plan has garnered majority support in either house, let alone enough votes to override a likely veto by Gov. Sam Brownback.
That inaction hasn’t really cost the state any additional money since legislators long ago budgeted for a 100-day session. But they’ve reached that mark, and more days will now start to cost more money.
How much? About $43,000 a day. If the entire Legislature stays in session through the end of June, it could cost taxpayers more than $1 million.
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So here’s an idea for lawmakers: Go home.
Not everyone, of course. It is tempting to ask the whole Legislature to leave — that would force Brownback to figure out how to close schools and state offices by July. But a statewide government shutdown would be a disaster.
Work on budget, tax and school finance bills must continue in June to avoid that calamity.
But legislators should ask members of relevant committees and the leadership in both branches to stay at work. Let those members meet on a daily basis, weekends included, to craft measures that all sides can support. Then call the remaining members back to Topeka for a vote. Other states are doing just that.
The alternative appears to be keeping everyone around so daily test votes can be held. That’s a good strategy when a broad consensus seems achievable.
Now, though, each faction of the Legislature — conservative and moderate Republicans, as well as Democrats — can essentially block passage of any compromise measure. Alliances shift and opinions change. And no proposal is final. There’s always a chance for a better bill, another idea, another compromise. That means members feel free to vote no even when they agree on some aspects of a bill, because they think they can get something better next week.
That attitude is likely to change in about a month, when deadlines approach and a shutdown looms. That’s when lawmakers and perhaps the governor will get serious about their responsibilities.
That’s what happened in 2015, when exhausted legislators approved the biggest tax hike in state history.
But there’s no reason lawmakers not directly involved in the committee process should wait around until the crisis hits. Instead, let them go home.
Let’s save taxpayers a little cash, and let the leadership find a way out of the fire swamp of Kansas government.