Can this embarrassing legislative session be saved? Sure. But if GOP leadership and Gov. Sam Brownback hope to recover from the extreme and at times unfair abuse the state of Kansas has suffered over the refusal-of-service and spanking bills, they should realign their legislative priorities with those of Kansans. Quickly.
Some recent polling points to an undeniable disconnect between the people and the 2014 Legislature. Among the results of note in the Public Policy Polling survey of 693 Kansas voters last week:
• 59 percent said Kansas schools are not adequately funded and that the Supreme Court should rule in favor of an increase; those were the views of 48 and 47 percent of Republicans, too, respectively.
• Only 26 percent think Brownback’s tax plan has been a success, compared with 47 percent who think it hasn’t been and 27 percent who aren’t sure; 38 percent of Republicans think it’s been a success.
Yet the session has seen no discussion of restoring the funding cuts in per-pupil base aid or revisiting the imprudent income-tax cuts.
Nor has the legislative debate reflected some of the findings of the most recent Kansas Speaks survey from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, including 50 percent support for increasing state spending on social services, 45 percent support for better funding higher education (a 10-point jump in one year), and 55 percent opposition to allowing concealed-carry of guns in more government buildings.
Instead of reflecting that and other polls indicating that at least three-quarters of Kansans think it’s important for the state to develop wind energy and use renewable energy, the House’s GOP leaders also have made it a priority to roll back the renewable energy standard that has helped make Kansas a wind powerhouse.
And while 60 percent of Kansans support expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, according to a 2013 Kansas Hospital Association poll, the Legislature took a step in the opposite direction last week: A bill that would commit Kansas to join a state health care compact, separate and apart from the federal government, cleared a House committee without debate. This even though the bill is a complete dead end, as it would require federal approval.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, can’t get a hearing on a bill to allow a Medicaid expansion in Kansas. This even though expansion would inject an estimated $3 billion into the state’s economy and create 4,000 jobs over the next seven years while providing thousands of Kansans with needed insurance.
Maybe the stress of waiting for the Kansas Supreme Court’s school-finance ruling is making lawmakers punchy. Maybe it was unwise to pass a two-year budget last year, which has left plenty of time for unproductive distractions this year. Some would fault not the Legislature at all but the news reporting on it.
“The media only covers the battle, they never cover the success,” Brownback told Politico last week, when asked about his drooping popularity amid low unemployment in the state.
But the polling is telling, if only state leaders will hear it. As it is, Kansans may be looking with envy toward the four states, including Texas and North Dakota, whose legislatures only meet biennially.