Pass budget, go home

Winning World War II was hard. Finding Osama bin Laden was hard. For many Americans right now, landing a job or simply gassing up an SUV is hard.

Passing a state budget during a revenue crisis?

Though hardly fun, it shouldn't be as difficult as the Republicans who have 100 percent control of state government are making it out to be.

In order for the legislative session to be about "jobs, jobs, jobs," as Gov. Sam Brownback recently described it, leaders in the House and Senate must do their own jobs and come together on some key policy and budget priorities.

To be sure, both budget plans are depressingly bad, forcing drastic cuts on K-12 schools and social services. Either will lead to closed schools, teacher layoffs and longer waiting lists for disability services.

If legislators haven't heard an outcry from constituents about the local impact on classrooms and lives, perhaps it's because Kansans are resigned to cuts in theory and suffering from downturn fatigue. But because the cuts will matter profoundly to those whose jobs and services are curtailed or lost, the Legislature should not cut more than necessary.

With its ending balance of about $26 million, the Senate plan at least would get more of the limited resources out the door, where they can mitigate the harm to those who rely on state-funded services.

The House leaders want to cut more and sock away $50 million.

If the choice is between a deeper ending balance and even deeper program cuts, many Kansans would rather the money be productively spent rather than banked. And it's worth noting that the budget plan Brownback released in January included only a $7.5 million ending balance.

The two chambers were still at odds Friday on about 100 budget issues, including state funding for the Affordable Airfares program that benefits business and leisure travelers in Wichita and much of Kansas.

As it is, the more than a dozen rounds of House and Senate negotiations over the 2012 budget have begun to look alarmingly similar to the talks leading to the 2011 rescission bill, which Brownback ultimately pre-empted with his own cuts.

"We do not have extra money to pay for legislators' inaction," Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said last week in introducing legislation to cut off lawmakers' pay if they meet beyond the 90th day of the session, which will be Thursday.

That's true. Every day the Legislature meets costs taxpayers another $60,000.

It's time for Brownback to be the closer for both the 2012 budget deal and the 2011 session.