OK, the session is now a little more than a week old and the best news that can be reported by anyone who wanders the Statehouse for a living is that there have been no injuries.
The governor’s budget? Even the simple descriptions of it are political. Many Republicans are still fuming that the governor proposes to spend too much money, meaning tax increases are ahead, if not this session just before a new governor is elected, then the session after. Democrats are at least positive on Gov. Sam Brownback’s five-year, $600 million increase in K-12 funding, but not much else so far.
And Kansas House members who are seeking reelection, and those who want to unseat them, generally are cautious. The total dollar figure for K-12 sounds about right, but over five years? Any chance the Kansas Supreme Court which declared last session’s K-12 plan unconstitutional will go for a five-year fix? Nobody, at least nobody who wears a black robe to work, is saying...
Probably one of the better pieces of news is that the outgoing (either this spring to a federal job, or at his term end) governor is planning to pay — yes, use real money, not a financing gimmick — $18.1 million in the rest of this fiscal year and $30.8 million in the upcoming fiscal year for the state’s share of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) contributions for teachers. The state’s pension plan, recall, has been mostly refinanced, pushing contributions into the future like you do if you refinance your home.
Another bright spot? Brownback plans to boost the budget for Statehouse operations by $200,000 so that public (and other) interest groups won’t have to pay up to $500 to hold a gathering under the dome to talk to their lawmakers. (Although for a few groups that hold Statehouse rallies, we’re figuring a two-drink minimum would have covered those now-canceled fee hikes.)
But... the bright spots are relatively sparse. While the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees parse each line item of the governor’s budget, which projects surpluses (yes, cash in the bank after the bills are paid) of $266 million on June 30 and $150 million the following year, few believe the fiscal year will end with that much cash.
In fact, the only new expenditure in the budget that appears to be virtually assured is a relatively cheap ($8 million this year and next) remake of the state’s programs for the roughly 7,000 children who are the responsibility of the state, who have been removed from their parents’ homes for their safety.
That provision increases investigative staff at the Kansas Department for Children and Families so that we can locate the kids who leave their foster care homes or their adoptive parents, allocates $1.5 million for additional staffers to ensure those children’s welfare, and provides new emergency shelter for those children so they don’t wind up sleeping in offices of child-care contractors.
Anyone against that? No hands held up. And, it is Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer who hopes to grow up to be Gov. Jeff Colyer who is the owner of that child welfare provision, both as a government executive and a Republican candidate for governor.
What else is assured from Brownback’s $6.923 billion budget for this year and $6.899 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year? Not much.
So, the Legislature is up and running, in the first few weeks of dissecting the budget. We’ll see how this works out…
Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report. Visit his website at www.hawvernews.com