All things considered, we’ll take it.
Kansas lawmakers finally wrapped up their 2017 session last weekend by passing a two-year state budget that sets the state back on the road to recovery after years of damage wrought by Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts.
The session was far from perfect, but in the Brownback era, half a loaf is an achievement. Kansans got that much and maybe a little more.
Among the accomplishments is the heroic reversal of the 2012 tax cuts and the end of the LLC loophole, which amount to a stunning rebuke of the once-dominant Brownback. Lawmakers wisely passed a three-bracket individual income tax system that’s more progressive than Brownback’s two-bracket structure, which favors the wealthy over the poor.
The LLC loophole benefiting 300,000 business owners and farmers failed to produce the job windfall that Brownback once forecast when he signed it.
Still another achievement is a new budget that mercifully provides pay raises to state workers, who haven’t received an across-the-board boost since 2008.
Lawmakers gave us half a loaf on a bill that keeps firearms out of state hospitals but failed to keep them off the campuses of public universities. Now students face the uneasy prospect of knowing that the person sitting next to them in a crowded lecture hall could be packing.
Brownback has yet to say whether he’ll sign or veto the measure that would ban concealed handguns in public hospitals.
The governor also hasn’t signed off on the new school funding formula that refocuses state dollars on at-risk children and eliminates those odious block grants. Those are positive steps, but the education plan falls far short of the funding level that the state Supreme Court is demanding following that years-long school-finance case. Legislators approved a measure that provides roughly $488 million over the next two years, but school backers said far more is required, and we believe they’re right.
If the court deems the spending level inadequate, lawmakers will find themselves back in Topeka this summer to increase funding.
The session’s shortcomings are easy to pinpoint. In a sign of just how far this Legislature has come, lawmakers finally passed a much needed expansion of Medicaid, only to fall three votes short in the House of overriding Brownback’s veto. Expansion would have provided financial security to many Kansas hospitals that are barely hanging on, particularly those in rural areas.
Lawmakers also wisely passed a bill that adds more state oversight to amusement rides following the August death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab at the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City, Kan. But lawmakers later voted to delay the legislation from going into effect this summer after some carnivals expressed concern they would not be prepared to meet the law’s stricter standards so soon.
That’s just asking for trouble. Brownback should veto the delay.
It should be lost on no one just how much has changed in the Kansas Legislature since the November elections. A year ago, conservatives ruled. Today, the split between Democrats and conservative and moderate Republicans is far more even, and the result has been a startling turnaround.
That lack of a ruling coalition also suggests that working through the big issues of 2017 was never going to be easy. It wasn’t, but lawmakers met the test.