Editorials

Kansas Legislature’s limited agenda: Fix the budget, do no harm

These three people will play a big role in Kansas’ upcoming legislative session: House Speaker Ray Merrick, Gov. Sam Brownback and Senate President Susan Wagle.
These three people will play a big role in Kansas’ upcoming legislative session: House Speaker Ray Merrick, Gov. Sam Brownback and Senate President Susan Wagle. The Associated Press

State legislatures usually begin a new session with big plans and diverse agendas. But not Kansas, not this year.

Almost everything is on hold until lawmakers complete their one essential task: Fix the budget.

Kansas is beyond broke. The gap between expenses and revenues for the rest of this year and the next is close to $900 million. Lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback must close it by finding new sources of revenue or cutting expenses.

The responsible course is to improve the revenue stream. Options include rolling back devastating income tax cuts, eliminating state income tax deductions and closing off some sales tax exemptions.

Further cuts are simply not feasible. Many essential state functions, like child protection services, are showing the stresses of being underfunded.

It would make a world of sense for the state to expand Medicaid eligibility limits. Not only would 150,000 working Kansans receive access to affordable medical care, the state would gain about $400 million a year in federal funds — a sure-fire economic stimulus.

Sadly, the Legislature can do little this session to move Kansas forward. But it could still do some damage.

Conservatives will likely try to roll back a law requiring utility companies to acquire 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. That standard has boosted wind energy and other “green” sources in Kansas, and it’s good for air quality. The push to repeal it comes mostly from Koch Industries of Wichita, which deals in petrochemicals.

It would be refreshing if legislators would avoid attempts this year to discriminate against gay Kansans and further restrict constitutional access to abortion services. Lawmakers have enough on their plates.

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