Legislative leaders should keep the veto session that starts Wednesday focused and brief by concentrating on four important issues – taxes, the budget, Medicaid and KanCare – and avoiding last-minute shenanigans.
Resolving the state’s budget for next fiscal year hinges on lawmakers agreeing on tax policy. The Senate wants to make permanent the statewide sales tax increase, while the House doesn’t want to break the promise to taxpayers that the increase would be temporary.
The state has a large enough ending balance that it could make it through the next fiscal year without extending the sales tax. But doing so would leave the state in a much deeper budget mess the next fiscal year.
House GOP leaders are signaling a willingness to compromise. And the House’s top tax negotiator, Rep. Richard Carlson, R-St. Marys, expects an agreement to be reached in the first three or four days of the veto session.
One reason why the House may compromise is that Gov. Sam Brownback is pushing hard for the sales-tax extension. And as Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, noted: “Governors tend to get what they want.”
At least that’s true with this governor and this Legislature.
After agreeing on revenue, lawmakers also will need to resolve some budget differences. For example, the House wants to cut higher education funding by 4 percent, while the Senate proposed a 2 percent cut. Brownback has been campaigning against any cut, arguing correctly that higher education plays a vital role in growing the economy.
Will lawmakers agree with Brownback? If they don’t, will he veto a budget that cuts higher education?
The Legislature also needs to support the federal expansion of Medicaid (which would bring needed health insurance to more than 150,000 Kansans and inject about $3 billion into the state’s economy over the next seven years) and carve out from KanCare the long-term care of intellectually and developmentally disabled Kansans (which shouldn’t be turned over to for-profit insurance companies). These two issues can have a big impact on the state’s economy and the daily lives of its residents.
There is a danger that lawmakers will try to sneak through some bad legislation during the final days and hours of the session. For example, there may be another attempt to eliminate the state’s renewable-energy standard or to block Common Core education standards.
Lawmakers should reject such moves and stay focused on the four key issues. Besides, haven’t they already passed enough intrusive and constitutionally suspect laws for one session?
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee