When the Kansas Legislature convenes Jan. 13 in Topeka, state lawmakers face a potential powder keg: State agency budgets are extremely tight, a judge's ultimatum requires them to fix the state's school finance law and the public still wants property tax relief.
"I would anticipate it will be the most volatile session in many, many years," said Russell Getter, a Kansas University associate professor of political science who specializes in Kansas government and politics.
Getter also says the rift between Democratic Gov. Joan Finney and the Legislature has not improved since the 1991 session.
Solving revenue problems will be especially difficult because the governor has said she would not support any new taxes.
"They're going to be so hard up for money and there are so few places to get money that they're going to have to look at all possibilities," Getter said.
LAWMAKERS may seek revenue from the massive highway program approved under former Gov. Mike Hayden by diverting $75 million from that program into education and welfare programs. Prison budgets may also be trimmed, Getter said.
"I don't think state employees are going to get any salary increase at all," he said. "I would be very surpised if they did. They may be very lucky if they don't lay off employees in at least some sectors. There may be freezes on hiring and lots of other stringent measures that may be taken."
Meanwhile, the school finance problem "is a tremendous political challenge," Getter said.
Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock gave an ultimatum if lawmakers don't make the state's current school finance statute more equitable this year, it will be done through the courts.
RELATED to the school finance problem is the question of property tax relief particularly the 30 percent assessment rate on commercial property, which places a heavy burden on small businesses.
Another issue that may rise up is whether the Legislature will try to stop Indian tribes from setting up casino gambling operations on their reservations, which are beyond state control.
If the main issues aren't enough, partisan politics will help to create more contention all of the 165 seats in the Legislature will be up for re-election in November. And legislators will also be battling over new boundary lines for their districts.