The Kansas legislative veto session wrapped up last week, Saturday May 4 in the wee hours of the morning. Sleep deprivation and lack of time for review or discourse appear to be legislative leadership’s preferred mode of doing business in Topeka.
Behind Closed Doors
In similar fashion to the major bills that have been pushed through this session, the final state budget bill was crafted behind closed doors by less than a handful of legislative players and a great deal of outside influence. Legislators were cornered by senate and house leadership to vote on the entire state budget without review.
John Todd of Wichita AFP, at Capitol on May 1. From @andymarso
Among the most visible players at the Capitol were Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a partner operator of ALEC. AFP was founded by Koch Industries brothers to educate “citizens about economic policy and mobilizing citizens as advocates in the public policy process”. The AFP Kansas t-shirt sported during the veto session speaks for itself “I torch KS”. A guiding principle for these joint organizations is essentially to burn down Kansas government and turn over basic services to the market place – privatizing education, disability services, transportation, energy, environmental protection, justice and such.
Market place losers are left to fend for themselves in this emerging reality for Kansas. Read the Grapes of Wrath lately? Consider The Worst Hard Time for a more contemporary read on lessons learned from the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.
Veto Session Bill Recap
Several bills that came into play during the veto session continue to transform Kansas into a state radically different from anything we have known to date.
ACTIONS OUT of Alignment
- State Budget Shrinking HB 2231. The state's $14.6 billion budget passed on a vote count of 70-54 House, 22-18, Senate (Topeka Capital-Journal). The budget in conjunction with the tax policies has escalated the state’s self-inflicted financial crisis, which triggered Moody to downgrade Kansas credit rating for the second time (Kansas City Star). April revenue projections came in $92 million less than estimated, leaving the state $480 million less in revenues than this time last year (Wichita Eagle). Before the April revenue report was released, the Governor’s experimental tax policy was a Brownback win. When the shortfall was announced, the failure of Governor Brownback’s experimental tax policy was no longer his responsibility but the fault of federal policy. The federal policies are not new and have included some of the biggest tax cuts in recent history including a 10% sequestration reduction. So the governor is either ignorant or recklessly chose to disregard the impact of federal budget cuts in conjunction with his experimental tax policy.
- Transparency Act Undermined HB 2438. This bi-partisan initiative to live-stream legislative debate and testimony on bills that determine the rules of engagement was abandoned by legislative leadership.
- Local Revenues Rerouted to State HSubSB 245. The mandated local levy of 20 mills that used to go directly to your local school district has been taken away and re-directed to the state, without any guarantee that all of those dollars will come back to the school districts (KASB). This change will allow the state to claim an increase in the state education budget without adding a penny to the education budget, passing by a vote of 30-9 Senate, 88-37 House.
- County Revenue Stream Eliminated HB 2643. As part of the state appropriations bill, millions of dollars were eliminated from county revenues stream by phasing out a minimal first time home buyer mortgage fee, passing by a vote of 24-13 Senate, 70-53 House.
ACTIONS IN Alignment
- Blocked Efforts to Repeal Renewable Portfolio Standards SSubHB 2014. The House blocked a vote to repeal RPS for the sixth time by a vote of 63-60. The AFP-Kansas, the KS Chamber of Commerce, and Kansas-based Koch Industries are reported to have spent over $500,000 in TV and radio advertising and direct mail to defeat the RPS (Bryan Lowry; Kansas IPL).
- Anti-Common Core Bill Tabled HB 2289. Kansas College and Career Education standards were being held in reserve as a bargaining chip for leadership’s state budget bill. House Appropriations Chair Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, said that the Common Core measure probably would be sent to the House for debate if the budget bill had failed.
Bills Signed into Law
To date, Governor Brownback has signed 99 bills into law this 2014 legislative session (KSOfficeGov). These new laws are characterized by further reductions to state revenue streams and shifting of state services and protections to the market place. The question at hand is how small a government is small enough? What serves are you willing to live without? What investments are you willing to forgo for short-term cost savings?