Legislators return to the Statehouse this week to consider whether they want to do some really politically ugly stuff to balance the state budget this year or not.

It’s that simple.

The latest financial report shows the state is going to have to come up with approximately $140 million — either new revenues (virtually impossible) or spending cuts, more likely — to get out of this fiscal year with a constitutionally required positive ending balance in the treasury. Doesn’t have to be much, just a few bucks give the state a constitutional balanced budget.

Now, there is talk about the two-year budget cycle, and that the state will need $151 million in higher revenues or budget cuts for the upcoming fiscal year which starts July 1, but, well, we understand the Legislature will meet again next year to work on that.

So, it’s just the get-out-of-town $140 million that is the real goal of lawmakers during their wrapup session so they can get out on the campaign trail and back to life as many of us know it.

Gov. Sam Brownback has an idea — or rather three of them — that would let the Legislature do some politically unattractive and unpopular bill-passing in the wrap-up session, and while he has a favorite, he wants lawmakers to choose.

Legislators (no show of hands, er, votes, yet) will have to decide whether they want to vote on ugly revenue-saving bills or leave it up to the governor, who has authority to make spending cuts called “allotments” all by himself.

Hmmm. Let’s look at that again. The Legislature, where members of the House and Senate stand for election this year, can make spending cuts and money transfers, all of which will wind up on their election opponents’ campaign flyers.

Or, lawmakers can ignore the fiscal sleight of hand proposed by Brownback, who as chief executive officer of the state would have to make the spending cuts himself.

Let’s see, legislative cuts and shuffles will cost candidates votes this fall, while there isn’t a lot of political downside to pointing at the governor who is in the last three years of his last term and saying “he did it.”

The governor has made much of the duty of the Legislature to pass a balanced budget — which it believed it had with this year’s budget bill, before those new revenue estimates were made public last week.

So, now it is clearly who wants to do the icky budget-cutting because, practically, every dollar cut from this year’s budget means some interest group is going to be mad.

That makes the real question simple: Mad at whom?

The governor already has authority to make across-the-board budget cuts, and with a little tweaking of the law — and without a dollar sign in sight — lawmakers could hand him authority to make narrowly focused cuts in spending. That essentially leaves to the governor what gets cut, which is a fairly remarkable power to hand the governor.

But then, it’s the guy whose name won’t be on the ballot this fall making politically powerful decisions, not the Legislature.

Nope, the governor isn’t really interested in seeing all that responsibility handed back to him, but then again, if you were in the Legislature, and standing for re-election this fall, do you want your DNA on anything that will make voters mad?

The governor has supporters in the Legislature, many of them Republicans he campaigned for. Most were happy for his help, which helped them land seats in the Legislature. But memories tend to be short in the Statehouse.

So this week, and probably part of next week, might just turn out to be pivotal for some legislative races. The choices are to help the governor or to help yourself and your campaign.

Wondering which way the Legislature will go?

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of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report.