Session mostly a mess

Gov. Sam Brownback loaded up the 2012 Legislature with bold proposals on taxes, school finance, Medicaid, water and state employee pensions, all on top of lawmakers’ mandatory budget and reapportionment duties.

“Our season is short, the needs are great and people, particularly our children, are depending on us,” he told lawmakers in his State of the State address in January.

Yet the state of the GOP-controlled state government as of Friday, which was supposed to be the last day of the 90-day legislative session, was utter failure.

Water policy was the only major issue resolved, not counting an uncharted Medicaid privatization that is mostly beyond the Legislature’s ability to stop or shape.

Kansas lawmakers are alone in the nation in having come to no agreement on a new map for congressional districts. The other maps are in limbo, too, which necessitated postponement of the candidate filing deadline and also could delay the August primary.

The House and Senate remain at odds on the 2013 budget, a pension system reform and whether to restore some of the cuts made in recent years to schools and social services.

Yet on Friday the Senate had a lengthy, contentious debate before passing unnecessary legislation to purge Kansas courts of Shariah or other foreign legal codes.

Meanwhile, off on its own fearmongering tangent, the House spent way too much time last week debating and passing a meaningless resolution condemning a 20-year-old nonbinding United Nations document.

In retrospect, the state’s business didn’t stand a chance this spring – not with Brownback making no secret of his alignment with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce’s crusade to unseat moderate Republican senators including Senate President Steve Morris of Hugoton and Sens. Jean Schodorf of Wichita and Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick.

If moderate senators have strained credibility in drawing Senate maps that protect themselves from would-be conservative challengers, by last week it was hard to fault them.

That’s when Brownback orchestrated the brutish power play to put an irresponsible tax-cut bill on his desk in an effort to coerce Senate leaders into agreeing to a marginally less irresponsible one.

The Kansas Legislative Research Department projects that, in the most optimistic scenario, the bill Brownback and House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, are holding over senators’ heads would turn a $459 million surplus at the end of the 2012 fiscal year in June into a $2.4 billion budget shortfall by June 2018.

No true fiscal conservative would support such legislation, yet the governor said Friday he was “looking forward to either signing this bill” or some other one still to be worked out.

In closing his January speech, Brownback said: “Together we will succeed, for we must.”

Well, the clock just ticked into overtime, Governor, and the session is more mess than success.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman