Just imagine that three months after being sworn in as governor, the Kansas Legislature decided to make Jeff Colyer essentially the king of Kansas — for nine days.
As king, of course, you can sign bills into law, veto bills, scratch out any of the hundreds of line items for spending in the upcoming budget bill.
In the past, lawmakers always have made sure that once they have completed their entire session and sent bills to the governor, they later have a day — called sine die adjournment — in which they can consider gubernatorial vetoes and override them if they believe the governor has made a bad decision.
That’s the Legislature’s final check on the governor if an overwhelming majority — two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate — agree the governor has made the wrong decision by vetoing bills that a super-majority of legislators believe is good public policy or has cut funding for programs that they believe are important to the state and its people.
But now Colyer — who has 10 days to act on bills after they have passed the Legislature or they become law without his signature — can merely sign bills that he considers a good photo-op or hang onto them until lawmakers leave town.
The measure that creates the brief —April 26 to May 4 — period of unbridled gubernatorial power was the adjournment resolution that lawmakers had to pass before midnight Saturday. Without that adjournment resolution passage by midnight Saturday, this year’s Legislature would have ended. No wrapup-session, no more meetings … just ended and the lawmakers go home.
That absolute adjournment, which would have occurred at midnight, was avoided by last-minute, yes, literally last-minute depending on your view of the clock in the House — either 11:58 p.m. or 11:59 p.m. — passage by the House of the Senate-written resolution which allows lawmakers to return April 26 to complete their work.
With the Senate across the hall debating a school finance bill in what was clearly a filibuster to chew up time, the House was literally forced into agreeing to the Senate’s earlier-passed adjournment resolution. It was a deadline like few have seen in the past; the House either OK’d the Senate’s resolution or the Legislature ended at midnight, without a budget and spending authority for the upcoming fiscal year.
Yes, that’s how close it was. Just seconds before the Legislature would have gone out of business for the year with no money appropriated for schools, highways, law enforcement, prisons, health-care programs and welfare. Imagine the entire state with its agencies, employees and state services not funded.
The tradeoff for the session ending at midnight was abandoning that legislative oversight of the governor’s actions on all bills passed during the wrapup session.
Is it just insider stuff? Under-the-dome politicking? Partly. Colyer undoubtedly would have called a special session, forcing lawmakers to return to finish their work. The state wouldn’t have turned out the lights at the end of this fiscal year.
But … this is a year in which the entire House seeks reelection, and in which Colyer is hip deep in the campaign for the Republican nomination for the governorship.
A well-aimed veto pen can be a political tool. Colyer can cut specific appropriations with much political fanfare: He’s saved money, cut what he can label wasteful spending. …and just a little clip here or there can be portrayed to show that he’s not a big-spender like the Legislature, that he is looking out for those potential GOP primary voters.
Any chance the GOP-controlled Legislature might near-anonymously put something in the budget bill that is a good political pick-off for the governor?
Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report.