It all starts with the budget

Everything the Kansas state government does begins with the budget. Gov. Kelly knows this, and submitted her budget weeks earlier than her predecessors, so that the Legislature could begin working, rather than grandstanding. But that did not prevent her opposition from crying foul. The Kansas Legislative Session has only just begun, and already there are roadblocks to progress. Let us guide you through the politics.

Gov. Kelly's budget does much to address the damage Kansas is still feeling from Brownback's poorly-conceived tax cuts in 2012. It fully funds education, finally making good on the promise set forth by the people in the Kansas Constitution. It begins to repair the unconscionable damage done to Kansas children by neglect at the Department of Children and Families. It funds the expansion of health care access for 150,000 working Kansas who can't get it now. And she has reduced the amount of money taken out of the Department of Transportation (the so-called "Bank of KDOT") to cover shortfalls.

But Gov. Kelly hasn't magically found a pot of gold hidden under Brownback's chair. She has had to make compromises and difficult choices, decisions that her opponents have only been too gleeful to pounce on. Along with the continued, if lessened, draw down of KDOT funds, she has proposed refinancing the debt to KPERS, the state's pension system. Savings from that refinancing make up a significant part of her spending. The idea has been equated to refinancing your home or car for an additional 30 years, and was last done before in 1992.

Predictably, the hard line Republicans in the Kansas Legislature have called it irresponsible, but the irony is rich. KPERS has been underfunded for twenty-five years, through many governors and under Republican Legislatures. During Brownback's tenure, many of these same legislators who are so aghast at her proposal were happy, in 2015, to mortgage Kansas' future with a $1 billion bond program (which has netted $73 million to date for KPERS). In fact, every member of today's Republican Senate Leadership voted for the bond program, as did many of the House Leadership team. At the time, Sen. Laura Kelly, "who voted against the measure, said... 'I've always believed you only put at risk in the stock market money you can afford to lose. Kansas has no money to lose. That’s why I voted no.'" (PIOnline)

Those same legislators have now introduced a bill to the Legislature that would make a back payment to KPERS totaling $115 million, a suggestion they resisted just a few years ago under Brownback, instead agreeing to delay payments until the Governor's tax miracle started working (spoiler: it never did). They say that refinancing the KPERS debt—Gov. Kelly's proposal—is a good idea, just not now. It should be considered in five years, Sen. Denning is quoted as saying. Conveniently, after this Governor's first term is over.

Let us be clear. Kansas is still hurting, financially. Many of the responsibilities of state government are still underfunded. Children, seniors, patients, rural communities and more are hurting. Under these circumstances, Gov. Kelly is suggesting an idea that will extend Kansas' debt. But what does she intend to do with the money generated? She intends to fully fund schools, offer health care to working Kansans who cannot get it, support foster children, and more. What did her opposition want to do when they made similar suggestions during a (self-inflicted) financial crisis? They wanted to eliminate tax brackets and ensure that the wealthiest Kansans got more money back. They wanted to cut more services, including education, to give tax breaks to private schools and corporate donors.

If Kansas has no money (a problem laid squarely at the feet of Sam Brownback and his supporters, many still in the Legislature), how would you want what is left to be spent? We'd like to see it go to protect ALL Kansans, but especially those who need it most.

If you agree, be sure to let your Topeka legislators know. Find them at

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