The pacing has been sluggish and the script oddly improvisational and unrealistic, with elements working at cross-purposes. But the 2012 legislative session hasn’t lacked for suspense or dramatic conflict. And the adjournment for spring break was a real cliffhanger.
Will the flames surrounding the two chambers’ failure to agree on a $14.1 billion state budget Friday threaten collaboration on other issues?
Will Gov. Sam Brownback get the “pro-growth” income-tax phase-out that he and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce crave? And will the tax cuts undercut the budget?
Will public school base per-pupil funding, already at 1999 levels, make a comeback, or will the cuts keep coming and the schools keep closing?
Will the new redistricting maps clear the Legislature and courts in time for candidates to file for the August 7 primary?
Will the state employee pension system be rescued from long-term insolvency, or will the meltdown merely be postponed?
The answers to these and other questions must wait until the wrap-up session begins April 25. That’s also when Kansans will learn how many other ways House conservatives can find to invite more costly abortion litigation and to elevate the consciences of some over the rights of others (notably gays and women seeking birth control and abortions).
Kansans also will see whether an appalling hypocrisy will last another year – that of gamblers puffing away at state-owned casinos, even though private businesses have to abide by the state’s 2010 indoor-smoking ban.
To their credit, Brownback and the GOP-led Legislature already made it look easy this session to do away with the “use-or-lose-it” doctrine on water rights, which should help sustain the Ogallala Aquifer. But conservative and moderate Republicans alike have scrutinized Brownback’s bold reform agenda and taken issue with much of it, even shelving his school-finance strategy to enable further study. Republicans also dashed Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s dream of passing an Arizona-style anti-immigration law.
Meanwhile, the pitifully outnumbered Democrats have used the House floor and procedures to advance not only their priorities but certain important truths – such as that public schools are due a share of the state’s new budget surplus, that any tax reform ought to address the dreaded property taxes, and that it would take an impossible 400,000-plus new jobs over 18 months to generate enough new revenue to pay for the Senate’s $829 million version of Brownback’s tax-cut plan.
What Brownback wanted of the 2012 Legislature on taxes, pensions, school finance and social services was too much all at once – especially in an election year. Good for the Legislature for being choosy about his agenda to date. The downside of its deliberative approach is that after spring break, so much will remain undone.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman