Beware the extended legislative session. Nothing good can come of Kansas lawmakers hanging around Topeka waiting for a break in a monumental impasse over how to raise more revenues for the state’s cash-starved budget.
Legislators could revoke the disastrous income tax cuts that created the problem and go home. But they won’t. Too many are wedded to the discredited supply-side ideology that gave birth to the debacle in the first place. Others aren’t brave enough to face the backlash from Americans for Prosperity and other groups that have vowed revenge on lawmakers who buckle.
While Kansas taxpayers foot the bill — $43,000 a day — for a session in overtime, lawmakers are spending idle time conjuring up more destructive ideas.
▪ A particularly malicious measure, slipped into a budget bill, would eliminate funding for the state’s entire judicial branch if the Kansas Supreme Court overturns a 2014 law requiring chief judges in district courts to be elected by other judges. Previously, chief judges were chosen by Supreme Court justices.
A plaintiff seeking to overturn the law contends it violates a separation of powers doctrine in the Kansas Constitution. Lawmakers defend the law as a move toward local control in the court system — a laughable assertion given the Legislature’s penchant for stomping on local control whenever possible.
One can quibble with the method of selecting chief justices. But threatening to defund the state’s court system is a vengeful and dangerous tactic. Basically, lawmakers are attempting to extort Supreme Court justices to rule in the Legislature’s favor or be shut down.
Conservative Kansas lawmakers have been disrespectful of the state’s courts and judges since rulings on school funding and other matters didn’t go their way. But their willingness to deprive Kansas citizens of a working court process is shocking.
▪ Just when you thought the Legislature has wreaked all the damage possible on schools and local governments, along comes a proposal to increase the cost of their building projects.
A new bill would eliminate a sales tax exemption that helps schools, local governments and nonprofit hospitals manage construction costs. Some lawmakers figure the state could raise about $151 million next year with a sales tax on materials and services.
Lobbyists and opposing legislators pointed out the obvious drawbacks: With higher construction costs, schools and local governments would have to scale back on building projects — meaning fewer jobs — or raise property taxes to pay off debt. They would be taxing residents to bail the state out of its self-inflicted jam.
The only person to speak in favor of the bill was an Americans for Prosperity spokesman. He implausibly said schools and local governments could cope by squeezing even more efficiencies out of their depleted budgets.
▪ No one is admitting to drafting the bill that would put the Kansas Bioscience Authority out of business, but it likely is a collaborative effort between Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration and some conservative legislators.
Whatever the source, it is a destructive idea that would cost Kansas the kinds of good-paying jobs that recruit and retain smart people.
Before Brownback took office, the Bioscience Authority was a bragging point for Kansas government. Savvy and fast on its feet, it convinced high-tech companies to take a chance on the state.
The authority still recruits companies, even though state support for its operations has dwindled. The legislative proposal seeks to dismantle it, folding its operations and assets into the state Department of Commerce.
Without the sustained focus and expertise of the authority, though, bioscience industry growth in Kansas will likely stutter. While other states are creating entities like the bioscience authority, Kansas wants to retreat.
Summed up, the costly “wrap up” session is proving short on budget solutions and long on trouble. The sooner lawmakers pack up, the better for Kansas.