At a retreat of Kansas conservatives last month, Gov. Sam Brownback congratulated the many newly elected legislators but cautioned them to “not overplay your hand.” Kansans can hope that both the governor and his like-minded Legislature will govern according to that sage advice during the session that started Monday. In any case, Kansans will need to speak up and amplify the dwindling voices of moderation at the Statehouse.
After the historic purge of moderates in August’s GOP primary, orchestrated by Brownback and groups such as the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, conservative Republicans now control not only the governor’s office and the House but also the Senate, where right-wing ideology often has hit a wall.
The enthusiasm will be great among conservatives in both chambers to wield their new clout across a range of issues, whether or not the legislation is vetted or needed.
The governor, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, must keep the focus on getting the state’s finances in order as the 2012 income-tax cuts begin to reduce tax collections, while looking out for public education, the social safety-net programs and local governments.
Recent revenues have raised expectations that the fiscal 2014 shortfall could be $267 million – down from the $327 million gap forecast a few months ago. But only time and tax collections will tell whether the tax reform will be a “shot of adrenaline to the heart of this economy,” as Brownback predicted, or a bomb decimating the state budget. Lawmakers also must fix some flaws in the hastily passed tax law, and bear in mind the likely outcome of the state’s appeal of last week’s school-finance decision – that the state will need to find more money for K-12 education, perhaps $400 million more.
The what-not-to-do list will be long.
The Legislature and governor should leave the appellate courts and the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission alone to do their vital work, rather than inject politics into how appellate judges are picked and how campaign-finance laws are enforced.
Kansas does not need a costly mandate that welfare recipients be tested for drugs, a law forcing college campuses to welcome concealed-carry of guns, or an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration. Legislators should not pass any anti-abortion bill that could jeopardize the University of Kansas Medical Center’s accreditation or lead to more expensive court battles.
Nor should lawmakers spend time trying to roll back the 2007 casino-gaming law or the 2010 public smoking ban, redo redistricting, curb water fluoridation, or fight the United Nations’ Agenda 21 document or other phantom menaces.
Brownback and his conservative allies won the levers of power outright, but they should remember that just 398,367 of the state’s 1.7 million registered voters participated in the August primary that largely gave them that triumph.
The test of how well they can represent all Kansans has begun.