Gov. Mark Parkinson backs attorney general on health-care suit

Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson talks with the Wichita Eagle's editorial board on April 7, 2010.
Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson talks with the Wichita Eagle's editorial board on April 7, 2010. The Wichita Eagle

Gov. Mark Parkinson said Wednesday that he supports Attorney General Steve Six's decision to keep the state out of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new national health care law.

"For me it's just a dollar and cents thing," Parkinson said. "If we join the lawsuit, all we do is we share in the cost. I don't see why we would share in the cost if the thing is going to happen anyway."

Parkinson said he doesn't think Kansas participation would make a difference in whether the controversial law gets overturned by the Supreme Court.

"There are a number of other states that are already suing," Parkinson said in an interview with The Eagle's news and editorial departments. "They have retained an independent, high-powered, high-priced law firm that's going to go out and challenge the suit. The suit's either going to be successful or not."

Six, a former judge, has said his legal analysis found the lawsuit is politically motivated and likely to fail in court. Like Parkinson, Six said he saw no reason to spend the state's money.

Eighteen states have joined the legal action, alleging that the new law infringes on individuals' rights by mandating they have health insurance, or pay a tax penalty.

The attorney general has been pressured by some Kansas lawmakers and may ultimately be forced to bring the state into the lawsuit.

Rep. Aaron Jack, R-Andover, is sponsoring a resolution in the Kansas House that would force Six to join the lawsuit. He said he expects it to come to a vote when the House returns for its annual wrap-up session later this month.

Under Kansas law, a simple majority vote in either the House or Senate can compel the attorney general to take legal action — and the resolution is not vulnerable to a veto by the governor, Jack said.

He also disputed the governor's contention that Kansas involvement wouldn't influence the outcome of the multistate lawsuit.

"I'm disappointed he (Parkinson) has such a low opinion of the attorney general's ability," Jack said.

Parkinson said he trusts Six's analysis.

"He knows much more about the legal reasons not to join the lawsuit," Parkinson said. "His office has done all the research on whether it has merit and whether we're likely to win or not."

Parkinson said he supports the new health care law, which was shepherded through the process by President Obama and congressional Democrats.

He said the law offers a structure for moving forward with reducing health costs. Left unchecked, health spending will consume half of the gross national product by 2030-2040, he said.

"If we don't get a control of health care costs, that problem dwarfs every other federal issue," he said. "I accepted the argument that there was a bigger cost of doing nothing than of doing something that maybe isn't perfect."

He also said he's not particularly concerned about the affect of the bill on the state's budget, which is facing a shortfall of about $400 million for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Most of the added costs springing from the new legislation will be paid from federal funds for the first four to five years, giving the state time to recover from the current recession before Kansas has to pick up a share of the cost, Parkinson said.

In addition, lost state revenue could be recouped in reduced medical costs, he said.

"I think you can oversell it or undersell it and people on both sides have done that," Parkinson said. "From a budgetary point of view, I really view it as a wash."