The 2017 politics of Kansas exemplifies the politics of uncertainty. Our nominal leaders blow the most uncertain of trumpets, while both legislators and the public seek clear direction. With less than a month before the end of the fiscal year, we are barely closer to resolving central issues than we were in February.
The list of uncertainties is staggering:
▪ Will the Supreme Court accept or reject the Legislature’s two-year educational spending proposal of around $250 million?
▪ Will legislators agree on a tax bill that will gain either the governor’s signature or the votes to override his veto?
▪ Will a two-year budget be passed?
▪ Will the state fulfill its basic obligations (payroll, pension payments) in June?
▪ Will Gov. Sam Brownback leave office early? If so, what will Gov. Jeff Colyer be like?
▪ Who will run for governor in 2018, in both parties?
▪ Will the 2nd and 3rd congressional districts produce serious partisan races?
▪ Will Senate President Wagle mount a primary challenge in the 4th Congressional District?
▪ What will the 2018 Kansas House look like if there is a Democratic wave election?
▪ How will the national politics of so-called health care reform affect the state Medicaid policies and the survival of many Kansas hospital.
There are some basic certainties: the need for more revenue to balance the state’s budget; the need to satisfy the Supreme Court as to funding adequate K-12 education; the fact that there will be filing dates in June 2018, primary elections in August 2018, and a general election that November. With so many offices in play, the political uncertainties exacerbate those that are policy-based.
Most likely the House will need 84 votes and the Senate 27 to override a Brownback veto on taxes, thus reversing the catastrophic decline in Kansas revenues and providing adequate funding for state programs, from education to highways to social services.
The Legislature may have addressed one uncertainty on school finance, but the court could easily rule the funding level inadequate, throwing the statehouse into further disarray.
In the midst of all this, the governor and the legislative leaders have either blown an uncertain trumpet or remained silent, allowing a series of votes to suggest what the Legislature might pass. As Brownback reminds us, such test votes are a staple of legislative politics. Sooner or later, he argues, something will pass.
Fair enough, in an ordinary year. But 2017, with its complex, interconnected mix of uncertainties, is far from ordinary. The governor and legislative leaders are obligedto discover where lawmakers might find agreement in addressing the state’s most pressing problems. So far, they have failed, as the session drags on.
They have not sought to rally public opinion, nor construct solid legislative deals, nor encouraged reasonable brokerage among competing factions. To be sure, this is difficult, and many actions take place in private.
Still, as we move into June and deadlines draw near, House Speaker Ryckman and Senate President Waglemust find ways to fund the government and provide for basic state functions.
We’re not collapsing yet, but Kansans deserve real vision and far less of their leaders’ uncertain trumpets.
Burdett Loomis is a professor of political science at the University of Kansas.