With just two weeks before the start of the 2015 Kansas Legislature -- and the start of the 2016 Kansas House and Senate election cycle -- it's like we've flipped the switch on one of those expensive swirly neon bulbs that take a second or two to actually start putting out light.
It's preparing for a high-anxiety session when the budget is under water: Nobody's saying specifically whether Gov. Sam Brownback's recovery plan is a good one or not or even venturing whether it will work.
Does it get any better than that for Statehouse junkies?
The governor has already signaled that he will single-handedly make about $78 million in cuts in spending for the last six months of this fiscal year (ending June 30), and has proposed that legislators put their fingerprints on about $200 million in cuts, which need legislative approval.
And, in what looks like one of those high-stakes poker matches on a cable television channel, Brownback is starting to look into the eyes of legislative leaders and see whether they'll call his bet or fold.
The worst news came last week from Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, a strong supporter of Brownback during the 2012 elections that zapped a dozen moderate Republicans from the Senate, paving her way to the presidency. She said she's not ready to urge her chamber to do the $200 million in cuts until she sees what other cards Brownback is holding -- his proposed budgets for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, which include the 2016 elections.
For the Statehouse/political crew in Topeka, that decision by Wagle is important because she believes there are parts of the current year budget that need trimming -- but not the way Brownback proposes. She wasn't happy with increases in K-12 spending, has some reservations about programs that agencies are running that were approved by last year's session and wants the entire current fiscal year budget on the table, along with the upcoming two-year budget.
That's cautious, and while she's waiting for the second step in the Brownback plan, she also has to take a close look at her Senate flock to see whether she can herd them the direction she wants.
Which means also that House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, who has his herd in pretty good shape to make budget cuts -- possibly even the governor's opening ante of a $200 million legislatively approved cut -- may find his chamber moving away from the Senate for a budget fix that will require agreement.
This may be the most memorable budget fight that we've seen in years--and one that has to be completed by June 30 because the state can't spend money that it appropriated last year if it puts the state in a deficit.
And then, there is that clock, or rather, calendar, ticking away.
A quick agreement gives agencies and the Kansans they serve maybe five months to readjust their business practices and such to meet that June 30 deadline, but should the current fiscal year fix take a month or two ... or more, well, the cutbacks have to be deeper and sharper as the fiscal year passes. You gotta drink the milk faster as its expiration date nears.
All that tumult will, of course, bring out the lobbyists and agency chiefs and at some point, the people who are looking at the cuts and how they affect their lives and security and safety. Look for some demonstrations, look for more citizens coming into the Statehouse, or at least emailing their senators and representatives as they learn just what the cuts will mean to their lifestyles.
The effects range from maybe a delay in building that off-ramp, disqualifying or finding reasons to disqualify recipients of welfare and health care or maybe just standing in line an extra hour or two to renew your driver's license due to staff furloughs or layoffs.
To whom will lawmakers listen? Hard to say. Probably ought to be those folks whose "I Voted" stickers have by now come off in the wash.
Syndicated by Hawver News Co.
of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report.