The message from three state legislators from Johnson County is that everything I want to have passed in Topeka is basically dead on arrival in the upcoming session, and perhaps beyond.
At a recent legislative breakfast before a large crowd, the legislators ticked off issue after issue. “This isn’t going to pass. That’s not going anywhere. Nothing’s going to happen with that.”
It is common knowledge that in an election year, little gets passed. But if you are not a conservative Republican, you may be disappointed in this agenda of stonewalling or outright dismissal of critical issues.
Sen. Jim Denning of Overland Park, Sen. Kay Wolf of Prairie Village and Rep. Marvin Kleeb of Overland Park — All Republicans — certainly did not give me much to be thrilled about.
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Denning and Kleeb are considered center-right. Wolf is a moderate. But no matter where they are on the spectrum, their conclusions were similar.
Taking the issues one at a time:
▪ Medicaid expansion is crying out for passage. There are 171,000 uninsured adults in Kansas who would be eligible for Medicaid if the state expanded its program. An additional 169,000 adults who will be newly eligible would likely enroll. The federal government would pay at least 90 percent of the cost. But, no. Because the state’s budget is so tight and the desire is not there, it’s not in the picture anytime soon. “No appetite,” is the way Denning put it.
▪ Plugging the gigantic loophole for many small businesses in Kansas, whose owners pay no income taxes, is a high priority for many Kansans of all ideologies. The state is broke and desperately needs this revenue. Although Wolf said she would want to see the loophole closed, she agreed it’s not going to happen.
▪ The ban on guns on college campuses, including Johnson County Community College, expires in July 2017. Who wants to see students carrying guns on the JCCC campus or the University of Kansas? The two center-right candidates on the panel — not extremists — both said that the recent terrorism in California proves all students should be armed. I can only shake my head in disbelief.
▪ Many local government officials at both the city and county level are livid. With absolutely no input, the Legislature passed an edict that if local property taxes rise because of increased valuations of real estate, any increase above inflation would require a public vote. This is absurd. We elect our local leaders, and if we don’t like the way they are spending taxpayers’ money, they should be voted out. We don’t need Big Brother micromanaging local governments. There will be an attempt to get this repealed, but no one on the panel thinks repeal is in the picture. Said Denning, “No constituent of mine has asked that this be repealed.”
▪ The school finance formula was gutted last year and replaced with block grants. School district leaders throughout the state are hollering about their increased costs. There is no flexibility in block grant funding to help cover those costs. Inflation and, in some cases, increased student enrollment are not considered in the flat block grants. There is a clamoring for a new funding mechanism. Denning, who is on the committee to create a new formula, says that the block grant will continue at least for a second year. This comes as no surprise, but it doesn’t make it fair.
▪ The revenue shortfall for 2016 has been addressed already by mostly borrowing from Kansas Department of Transportation and other agencies. The new estimates call for a budget deficit through 2017 of $354 million! The real budget crisis comes in 2017, which Denning said will be a “horrendous session.” Will there be a movement to find new revenue sources then? No one said. Given there are few places to cut further…well, we’ll see.
To this moderate Republican, things look bleak for this upcoming session, and beyond. The elections in November might, just might, change things for 2017. The extremists need to go.
Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: email@example.com