The 2017 Kansas Legislative Session gavels in today at 2:00 pm. If you're interested, you can follow along with the audio feeds of the House and the Senate. Or follow along on our Twitter list of reporters and others at the Statehouse (no Twitter account required). Today is likely to be more pomp than circumstance, as the legislature will be facing many long and difficult debates this year. The House Taxation committee meets at 3:30 today, and may set a tone or direction, but will be meeting all week. Many other committees start tomorrow or Wednesday.
Budget and Education will Overshadow Everything Else
While every session passes hundreds of laws, each year is dominated by a few topics. This year, the state's budget crisis, precipitated by the Governor's drastic tax cuts in 2012, will be front and center. Many of the ills that have befallen Kansans in his term can be traced to the reduced revenue and increasingly irresponsible spending cuts that have resulted from those tax policies.
Second, and related, will be how Kansas funds public education. The Kansas Supreme Court is due at any moment to deliver a verdict in the "adequacy" portion of the Gannon v. Kansas case, on whether the state puts enough money into education to adequately teach our children. Most observers think they will rule against the state, and require as much as $500 million in additional school funding. Add that to the budget crisis, which will require as much as $1 billon in additional funds over two years, and you see why these two topics will loom over every decision this year.
There are other topics, too. The reckless law to allow concealed guns without permit requirements will take effect for college campuses this summer. We expect action on this topic right away. Expansion of KanCare to give hundred of thousands of Kansans access to health care will continue to be debated. Brownback's refusal to expand has led Kansas to forfeit more than $1.6 billion in health care funds since 2014, though with the national health care law in peril, we don't know what will happen in Kansas. Voting rights, social justice, women's health, judicial independence, the environment and many other topics remain important to Kansas voters.
Hard Decisions will be Required
Political strategies are already being mapped out. The LLC tax exemption, a minor part of the 2012 tax policies, will likely be rolled back right away. This is a feel good win for beleaguered Brownback conservatives, but will put only the smallest dent in the $1 billion shortfall. Watch for this and don't believe the glad handing and back slapping likely to follow. In a similar vein, a new school funding formula is due, and already rumors abound about kicking the can down the road with an extension of the current block grant funding scheme. This is another "easy" decision that will be sold to the voters as a solution. It is not.
Here is the truth of this session. There will be no easy fixes. If your legislators aren't making hard decisions, choices about which they are not 100% happy, if they aren't compromising and reaching across the aisle and coming home to explain themselves, then they aren't doing their jobs. Demand that they do the job to which they have been elected. Then, if they do, reward them with your support. Listen to them, allow them to explain why they made the decisions they made, and recognize that the hole into which they are staring is potentially $1.5 billion dollars deep, and they are trying to keep children, seniors, the sick and the disadvantaged from falling into that hole.
It all starts this afternoon. Good luck to those working to make Kansas better for all Kansans. We will be watching. We will have your backs.