Published on -5/29/2013, 9:46 AM
With conservative super-majorities in place on both sides of the Kansas Statehouse, Gov. Sam Brownback had to have been expecting a relatively cooperative and short session this year. Rubberstamp a few more tax cuts for those who didn't need them, a few more reductions in services for those who do need them, and lawmakers would be on their way home. Many were predicting an 80-day session -- 10 days shorter than scheduled.
It hasn't worked out that way.
Today marks day 96, which means legislators are in overtime. Still to be agreed upon is the budget, the only constitutionally required act. Taxpayers are now relinquishing an extra $45,000 every day the session goes on.
It's not that lawmakers haven't been busy. As Martin Hawver points out elsewhere on this page, we now have a law regulating the size of pitchers bars throughout the state can serve mixed drinks in. It's half-a-gallon.
Valuable time also was spent on legislation attempting to require that both KU and K-State to play Wichita State University in men's basketball each season before conference play gets underway. Debates were had on how security agents frisked passengers at the state's airports, what to name the handmade wooden ballot box the Kansas House uses in races for leadership positions, whether to allow religious symbols on public lands if those symbols were important enough to the community's heritage, ensuring religious liberties are protected, celebrating 200-plus years of Judeo-Christian tradition in the U.S. military, limiting employers' access to social media accounts of job applicants, attempts to weaken the state Open Meetings Act, even more restrictions on what can happen inside strip clubs, setting aside a week in September every year to teach patriotism in all public schools, and encouraging the White House and U.S. State Department to approve a permit to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to carry tar sand oil from Canada to Texas.
While recommending funding decreases for higher education and ignoring a court ruling that said K-12 public schools are being shortchanged $440 million every year, legislators were attempting to increase the staff payrolls of the House and Senate budget chairmen by $50,000 and setting aside $85,000 for two golf tournaments.
But there apparently just wasn't enough time to craft a budget that would balance. Legislators are struggling to replace the revenue lost as a result of last year's massive tax cuts.
Those cuts, which were called the "nation's worst" by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Tax Foundation and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, have created holes too big to fill with a hope and a prayer.
Still, the American Legislative Exchange Council proudly claims other states should replicate the Brownback roadmap. The governor recently was feted at the Illinois Policy Institute for his bold vision. The success these parties claim is all on paper -- somewhere in the future as Kansas rides the glide path to zero income taxes.
With the session in overtime, legislators are debating how much to raise the state sales tax to help make up for the lost income taxes. Or how many other critical services to chop in order for the governor to continue boasting about his bold plan.
We're afraid the worst is yet to come.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry