The Kansas Legislature has adjourned until a veto session next month, so it’s an opportune time to assess a lawmaking body facing enormous challenges this year.
First, an “A” for effort. Moderate Republicans and Democrats in particular have worked in concert to tackle the state’s most pressing problems.
The moderate-liberal coalition came within a handful of votes of passing a tax increase aimed at rebalancing the state’s tax code and funding essential state services. Gov. Sam Brownback and his “Just Say No” caucus rejected the bill, and there weren’t enough votes to override his veto.
Lawmakers came amazingly close to expanding Medicaid protections for 150,000 Kansans. Again, the governor and conservatives just said no, leaving low-income and working Kansans to fend for themselves.
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The Legislature did make important progress in its regular session on needed reforms for the amusement park industry.
But as lawmakers will be the first to acknowledge, all their hard work has yet to yield actual solutions to the most urgent challenges facing the state. That means the veto session, which will start in about three weeks, will be critical in addressing issues including school finance, taxation and spending.
With that in mind, here’s an agenda — dare we call it a road map? — for the Legislature’s remaining days:
▪ Taxes. Lawmakers still must find a reasonable solution to a $1 billion, two-year budget hole.
Virtually everyone agrees taxes will need to increase, and there was movement on that front last week. For the first time, Brownback signaled a willingness to revoke the so-called “LLC loophole” that ended state income taxes for 330,000 business owners.
In return, the governor and fellow conservatives pushed a flat-rate income tax. We firmly reject that idea. Solving the state’s shortfall by dramatically increasing the tax rate on the poor is a non-starter.
The Kansas Senate crushed the flat tax. The Legislature should continue to work on shifting the state’s tax burden back to where it used to be, on wealthier Kansans.
▪ School finance. Lawmakers face a June 30 deadline for fully funding the state’s schools. They also want a new formula for dividing the money.
A plan that gradually raises spending to the required amount seems like the right approach, although the quicker the better. Today’s students shouldn’t suffer because of past legislative mistakes.
A proposal raising per-pupil state aid by $150 million a year for five years seems like a good target and a place to start.
▪ Spending. We’d still like to see a detailed plan for cutting state spending over the next two years.
Across-the-board cuts don’t count. Stealing from schools’ cash reserves doesn’t either. Selling tobacco settlement proceeds isn’t a budget cut. One-time borrowing should be off the table.
We’ll support reasonable, specific budget reduction efforts. We support tax increases that restore the state’s historically progressive tax code. And we support school spending policies that seek excellence in education for all Kansas students.
Some Kansas legislators deserve praise for working hard to reach those goals. Don’t stop now.