Two things to watch at the Statehouse starting Jan. 12 when the 2015 Legislature convenes: One is the fairly obscure pay-go rule and the second is what the other legislators do while the big dogs work on the budget.
Yes, there's a budget crisis, and the governor is going to have to present lawmakers with a plan to cut the budget by more than 10 percent. That's going to mesmerize most of the Statehouse crew.
It's pay-go -- that House rules provision that prevents any amendment from increasing the total amount of spending within any bill brought to the floor for debate by the House Appropriations Committee -- that might prove to be fascinating.
House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Republican from Stilwell who is already widely famous for saying Kansas is spending too much money, likely before the end of December will assign 18 hand-picked Republicans to sit on the 23-member Appropriations Committee. And, those 18 (up from 17 this year) mean the committee will be writing the budget for the upcoming fiscal year with little opportunity for the rest of the House to bump spending above the level approved by the committee.
So, we'll see whether Gov. Sam Brownback's upcoming budget is tight enough for the House.
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But, while that budget is stirring, the rest of the Legislature -- which means basically everyone who isn't on Appropriations or the Senate's Ways and Means Committee -- is going to have to have something to do with its time.
That's where things will get interesting: Because the distraction of the budget lets legislators spend time on issues including just what schoolteacher unions can negotiate for their members with school districts, abortion issues, and where it's legal to carry concealed and out-in-the-open guns.
Oh, and of course, whether you can toss Dillon's whiskey into the shopping cart along with the diapers and hamburger.
Yes, the budget issue means everything else with even a hint of saving some unit of government money gets a little more time and a little more discussion.
The death penalty, for example, doesn't seem like a fiscal issue but it can cost more to push a death penalty prosecution through the judicial system than to hold a criminal in prison for the rest of his or her life. Is that an argument for or against the death penalty? In this tight budget time?
Then there's the possibility of more toll roads in the state as a revenue-raiser or whether non-citizens who have graduated high school in Kansas should continue to be eligible for in-state resident tuition rates at colleges. The in-state tuition is a way to make college more affordable for Kansas kids who live down the block but don't have citizenship and who are a part of the educated workforce the state needs. But, that's money lost to higher education, isn't it? Is that a bargain, or a cost?
See all the little things, well, not necessarily little, that can at least be argued as money-savers, important in the state's economic crisis? Nearly every issue can be described as a money-saver or a cost-avoider if you're interested.
That's why this might be the year that what were simple social issues become social/budget issues, with the possibility the social, the taking care of Kansans aspect of those bills, might be downplayed under the umbrella of saving money so taxes don't have to be raised to get through the fiscal year.
Those other legislators? They're figuring how to make their small-scale narrow bills important in the greater mission of funding Kansas.
It'll be worth watching.
Syndicated by Hawver News Co.
of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report.