Why the Kansas Legislature is Blocked

Wednesday will be the 100th day of the 2017 Kansas Legislative Session. In the last three weeks, while there has been a lot of work on tax reform and school finance, there has been no actual movement. We've seen threats of late nights and weekends that end instead in early Fridays and weekends spent in home districts. And it all begs the question, why?

What is keeping the Legislature from doing its job?

Simply put, there was not enough change in 2016. When the session started in January, there was a great deal of optimism about what a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans could accomplish. That optimism fueled the first tax reform attempt in February, one that passed the House and the Senate, was vetoed by Governor Brownback, then overridden by the House, but stymied by three votes in the Senate.

And that is the key. The margin of the coalition sent to Topeka to change Kansas is very thin. In the Senate, especially, there are not enough coalition votes to overcome a veto, certainly, and often not enough to pass change legislation in the first place.

As the session has dragged on, some of the coalition have fallen off, discouraged by the lack of progress. On the conservative side, seeing the pothole delivered by Brownback's remaining ultra-conservatives, they have begun to look to compromise with some of those extremist positions. On the progressive side, seeing that same apparently insurmountable barrier, some of the coalition members have taken a firm stand on the policies they were voted to bring about. Both ends of the spectrum are seeing their numbers grow, and the coalition in the middle is weakening.

This has resulted in some obvious political moves. We've seen at least two failed attempts to move a flat tax, a ridiculously extremist measure with no hope of passage in this Legislature, but supported by Governor Brownback. Similarly, we saw a move last week to vote on a complete repeal of ALL of the 2012 tax policies, including a return to the tax bracket levels prior to Gov. Brownback, something that had not yet been attempted this session. Similarly, it went nowhere.

This is what has been happening in the Legislature. Gun bills are offered up, but sent back before debate can be held. School finance policy has made it relatively intact, but the finance portion has been subject to extremist cuts and stalling, ending with a bill that can't possibly meet the Court's requirements. Attempts to vote on it have been delayed, while more consensus is sought.

Should legislators compromise?

To be absolutely clear, it is the position of the MainStream Coalition that school finance requires something on the order of $800 million added to meet the Court's standards. This is the amount suggested by education advocates, by stakeholders, and even by the State's own Department of Education. The most recent piece of school finance legislation offers up a paltry $279 million. That is not enough.

It is also the position of the MainStream Coalition that tax reform is a required step, this year, to bring Kansas back into sustainability and growth. It is required that Brownback's 2012 policies be rolled back, that there be three tax brackets to better distribute the tax burden, that sales tax be reduced, and that enough revenue be generated to end our reliance on loans, sweeps, and delayed payments.

Absolutely, these are the positions that must be supported, and that we expect Kansas legislators to support.

Okay, so what do we do about it?

First, foremost, and always, you call your legislators and tell them as much. Use our ksleglookup.org tool to find them, call them, email them, show up at their offices in Topeka. Tell them to vote for full, $800 million funding for public education, and a full repeal of the disastrous 2012 tax policies.

But, (and you knew there would be one) when your legislators find the only path forward is to compromise, when they take less than they want because it is more than the other side wants, when that happens, you shoulder the burden, you thank them for the measures they did manage to get, and you dig in to get a better result next time.

You don't have to like it, certainly we won't be happy with a hamstrung public education finance plan, nor a half measure of tax reform.

But we will buckle down and work harder next time, to get that change.

2018 is coming, get ready.

In 2018 Kansas will have a new Governor, and every House seat will be available. It will be time to finish the job.

We are raising money for that fight. Join us to Walk the Vote!

Remember to do more than vote. Get informed. Get involved. Make a difference.

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