A wide open governor's race may add some political overtones to the 2002 session of the Kansas Legislature.
An election year always gives a little different twist to a state legislative session, but the 2002 Kansas governor's race, especially the race for the Republican nomination, could make the next session a particularly interesting and contentious event.
Already state officials are jockeying for position on the state budget. It comes as no surprise to anyone in state government that the 2002 Legislature will face a difficult budget year. It was apparent at the end of this year's session that legislators were borrowing from the state's financial future to cover the current budget year. When the legislature reconvenes, drastic measures reduced services or tax increases probably will be on the table.
At least that's what Kansas House Speaker Kent Glasscock said this week. Glasscock, who already has announced his candidacy for governor, told reporters that the only way to increase spending for public schools in the state is to either raise taxes or consider more legalized gambling to raise funds. By contrast, Senate President Dave Kerr, who is said to be considering a run for the governor's office, told the Journal-World this week that a tax increase is highly unlikely because the national economy is in a recession.
State Treasurer Tim Shallenburger also has announced his run for governor. Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer and Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall both are reconsidering their decisions on whether to enter the governor's race following U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran's announcement that he won't be a candidate. Although somewhat further removed from the legislative process than are Glasscock and Kerr, all three state officials could easily enter public debate on the budget or any other issue where they thought they might improve their election chances.
Gov. Bill Graves will have some difficult decisions about whose positions to support, especially if there are differences of opinion between his lieutenant governor and Glasscock, his good friend. Graves probably will try his best to remain neutral at least through the session, but that could be difficult.
For the last several years, the Legislature and the governor have relied on a robust economy to take care of the state budget. Deep tax cuts from a few years ago now are coming back to haunt the state. Legislators were unwilling to resist tax cuts when the economy was strong; now they may have to face tax increases when the economy is weaker.
It's a difficult situation that may be made even more difficult by the political posturing of legislators and others interested in the governor's office. Hopefully both candidates and non-candidates will rise above their political aspirations to make budget decisions that will serve the state and its residents.