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SPOTLIGHT
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Taking care of business in Kansas

Published on -5/9/2012, 8:43 AM

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Unable to pass legislation on a number of important issues during its regular session this year, the Kansas State Legislature has been trying to deal with them in what is called the “omnibus.” During the omnibus period, many important issues are decided primarily by the key leaders in the House and Senate and the governor.

There is little time for reasoned, logical debate.

Bills that come out of omnibus cannot be amended. That doesn’t leave opportunities for tweaking and rewriting problematic sections of a bill. It’s just all or nothing.

Worse, major bills — such as the state budget — often end up the thickness of a phone book. Omnibus doesn’t afford the time necessary for careful reading.

Under normal circumstances, omnibus is simply a time for wrapping up loose ends — deciding on the details of a few lingering bills. The expectation is the major issues already have been decided.

But not this year.

Since January, legislators have debated and argued — and then debated and argued some more.

As of the start of day, Friday, May 4, the Legislature still had not passed a budget for next year; still had not decided what kind of tax plan would be in place for next year; and still had not redrawn the state’s congressional districts to account for population shifts in the last decade.

The law requires states to undertake redistricting every 10 years. This year, Kansas is the last state in the Union to do so. Redistricting is always a hot issue because those district lines help decide who wins federal elections for the next decade.

The three items I mentioned above were just the biggies, in my opinion. Dozens of other bills remained undecided also. Friday was also the day the money ran out for secretarial and other support services for the legislators. Perhaps this was designed as an incentive for our lawmakers to get their act in gear and do what they should have been doing for the past several months — taking care of business.

I realize lawmakers face difficult decisions, and it is impossible to please everyone.

I also realize the Republican-controlled Legislature wants to please Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who, since the beginning of the session in January, has been urging lawmakers to eliminate the state income tax and lower businesses taxes. Brownback believes these cuts will give a huge shot in the arm to the state economy.

A number of current and retired economics professors in the state have expressed strong reservations about Brownback’s plan, particularly his desire to cut the state income tax entirely. One projection says such a move would leave the state with a $14 million deficit in 2014.

Some Republicans in the House and the Senate have publicly shared these reservations about Brownback’s plan. Others, no doubt, privately hold those same views. But, once you vote, the gov knows who backed his plan and who didn’t. I can understand Republicans not wanting to go “on record” against the governor’s tax plan any sooner than they have to.
But, in omnibus, we are now at the “have to” point.

All of us face deadlines at work. Many of us, myself included, sometimes procrastinate and put off doing a major project until the last minute. But, I find I don’t do my best work pulling an all-nighter relying on caffeine to keep me alert. The results are never my best. I know it, and my supervisor can figure it out too.

We, the taxpayers of the state of Kansas, are the legislators’ supervisors. The memo I would like to send our lawmakers is this:
I am disappointed that you haven’t taken care of business this year. I am disappointed that you have waited until omnibus to decide a number of very important issues. I don’t want to fire you. We, your supervisors, have spent a lot of time and resources training you this past year. By now, you should have learned how to work and play well with others. You should have a better idea when to compromise and when not to. I want your job performance next year to improve.

From now on, I want you to take care of business sooner rather than later.

Linn Ann Huntington is a longtime
journalism educator who
lives and works in Hays.
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