The Kansas Legislature on Monday begins work to pass hugely important bills on the budget, school funding, Medicaid expansion and — let’s hope — gun rights.
Kansas residents know all about the challenges, created in large part by the failed income tax cuts of 2012, pushed by Gov. Sam Brownback and ultra-conservative legislators.
— The Legislature needs to approve a spending plan that wipes out a projected deficit of $900 million over the next two fiscal years, starting July 1.
The best solution: Repeal the 2012 tax reductions to raise badly needed revenue. The worst? Try to keep relying on one-time fixes while further trimming funds for roads, social agencies and public universities.
— Lawmakers needs to constitutionally fund K-12 schools, to meet a Kansas Supreme Court dictate.
Elected officials should err on the side of kicking in more money rather than less, or the schools could be threatened with closure this summer. The state narrowly avoided that fate in 2016.
— The Legislature must find the will to again try to expand Medicaid services to more low-income Kansans.
That first bid came tantalizing, even surprisingly, close to happening several weeks ago. Lots of Kansans are speaking out in favor of this tactic. The possible closure of a large Topeka hospital also has focused renewed attention on the benefits of expansion for people and medical institutions.
How’s this going to happen?
Kansans need real leaders to step up, starting with Brownback.
He must get a brain and stop ruining the state’s fiscal situation. Primarily, he needs to allow the repeal of the reckless tax cuts, including the tax exemptions for owners of LLCs. The right tactics include creating a third, higher income tax rate.
The governor should sign Medicaid expansion and support repeal of a law that would allow guns in state hospitals and on college campuses starting July 1. As Brownback suddenly revealed last week, the gun law could cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year. That’s ridiculous.
All of this is achievable, partly because an overwhelming number of Republican lawmakers already support these positions (with the exception of repealing the gun law, which really needs a second look in coming weeks).
Up next: Senate President Susan Wagle.
She really needs to grow a spine and oppose Brownback on key issues if he refuses to change his mind.
So far this session, the Wichita Republican unfortunately sided with the governor on his narrowly upheld veto of increased income tax revenue. Wagle voted to oppose Medicaid expansion. And she almost comically led the charge for a flat income tax, which had no chance of passage.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, also has been a thorn in the side of necessary progress this session.
With the backing of Wagle and Denning, the Senate should be able to achieve a veto-proof majority on crucial bills.
Yes, it still would be tough to find the votes in the Kansas House to overcome Brownback’s expected opposition. But not impossible. The House overrode the governor on the income tax plan. On the negative side, the House came close but could not kill Brownback’s veto of Medicaid expansion.
The 2017 session that resumes Monday does not have an end date in sight. So the Legislature has the time to find the courage to fix the rot created and sadly still supported by Brownback.
It’s lawmakers’ duty to position Kansas for a brighter future.