Gov. Mark Parkinson told the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that while the recession is "really brutal" for Kansas government, he thinks he and the Legislature can come together to balance the budget in a "post-partisan" manner.
Parkinson has taken upon himself most of the responsibility of making $260 million in cuts that will be needed to bring this year's budget back into balance.
That should allow the Legislature to focus on next year's budget when it returns in January.
Parkinson said the past several years of budget shortfalls have burned away the waste in state government and there's "no question we're (now) affecting basic services."
He said cuts must be a "shared sacrifice" across departments and will be "painful, but not crippling," so departments will be able to rebound when the economy improves.
Parkinson distributed handouts showing that the most severe unemployment is clustered in manufacturing-dominated areas around Wichita, Kansas City and southeast Kansas.
As deep as the problem is, however, Parkinson expressed optimism that the state will eventually recover by focusing on its three "core competencies": aviation, agriculture and energy.
To do that, he said, Republicans and Democrats will have to set aside their political differences for a while.
"The challenge that we face, at the business level, at the government level at the community level, any level you want to talk about, are so daunting that they cannot be successfully met if we continue the childish politics that we have seen permeate our society over the last 10 to 20 years," Parkinson said. "What I have asked our Legislature to do is forget about politics for a while; let's recognize that this is a true economic crisis, that this is in fact the test of our lifetimes as public servants."
Parkinson is uniquely positioned as "post-partisan."
A former state chairman of the Republican Party, Parkinson switched to the Democratic Party to become lieutenant governor under former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. He inherited the governor's office when she joined the Obama Administration as secretary of health and human services.
Parkinson is not seeking re-election.
Legislators in the audience at the chamber lunch said that because of the depth of the budget crisis, Parkinson's call for cooperative effort is more than the usual pre-session platitudes.
Rep. Nile Dilmore, D-Wichita, said Parkinson had taken a good first step by taking the reins in cutting this year's budget rather than dumping it in the Legislature's lap.
"I think it takes a great deal of political courage, whether you're running or not," he said.
Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, said he's willing to give it a try.
"I believe I could be post-partisan," Huebert said. "I'm looking forward to working with the governor, finding ways we can work together."