Archive for Monday, April 30, 2007

Budget complaints spur discussion of full-time Legislature

April 30, 2007


Kansas a blue state

The National Conference of State Legislature divides state legislatures into five categories.

In "red" and "red light" states, it says, legislators report spending 80 percent or more of their time on legislative business, and most pay them enough that they don't have to hold outside jobs. They have an average of nine staffers per member.

In "white" states, the NCSL said, legislators report spending two-thirds of their time on legislative business, but they aren't paid quite enough to be able to live on their pay. They have an average of three staffers per member.

In "blue" and "blue light" states, lawmakers report spending half their time on legislative business, with "blue" states having the most traditional and lowest-paid "citizen" legislatures. Their staff averages one per member.

Red (4): California, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania.

Red light (7): Alaska, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin.

White (22): Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington.

Blue light (11): Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia.

Blue (6): Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming.

— If the Kansas Legislature ever becomes a full-time institution, conservative Republicans, those champions of smaller government, may be responsible.

And, if they are, the Legislature will expand its reach and staff and start paying members a full-time salary in the name of smaller government.

The prospect of a full-time Legislature no doubt makes some Kansans shudder, including many lawmakers. But last week, some conservatives were talking about the need to put more time into drafting a budget and digging deeper into how state agencies spend their dollars.

For them, the budget process is broken. Too much of what's eventually passed in budget legislation goes unchallenged, waste remains embedded year after year, and the governor and her staff have too much control.

They voiced those sentiments during a Friday caucus of House Republicans, where they were exhorted to pass a $308 million spending bill meant to wrap up budget issues for the year. To many of them, the bill seemed a symptom of out-of-control spending, and some of them said the problem is how little scrutiny spending gets.

"We can't fix this problem here today," said Rep. Joe McLeland, R-Wichita, a member of the Appropriations Committee.

It's natural for conservatives who talk about controlling the growth in government spending to be frustrated with a process that seems to result in larger budgets each year, whether the state's finances are healthy or pinched.

State government didn't have its first $1 billion budget until its 1974 fiscal year, and the budget still was less than $6 billion in fiscal 1993. When lawmakers finish their work this year, the fiscal year 2008 budget will be between $12.5 billion and $12.6 billion.

That's actually part of a trend no one has been able to stop. Since statehood in 1861, it has taken roughly a generation for the budget to grow 10 times larger. That means sometime around 2033, conservatives should be confronting the state's first $100 billion budget.

But conservatives have more immediate concerns, and they've honed in this year on how the state spends its general tax revenues, which finance roughly half of all spending. Spending financed with those dollars is likely to rise at least $450 million, or 8 percent, during fiscal 2008.

Not only that, such spending will force the state to consume two-thirds of its cash reserves, estimated to be at $832 million on June 30.

McLeland's point - echoed by others - is that legislators start with the budget the governor presents each January and discuss adjustments to that budget. Sometimes, lawmakers will discuss proposed increases in spending from the current budget year.

What they don't seem to do, he said, is get down into the details of that "base" spending that seems to carry over, year after year.

Veteran Rep. Carl Dean Holmes, R-Liberal, noted that doing that would require a look at what agencies submit to the governor, hundreds of pages of material. It's not a task the Legislature could tackle in a session that's supposed to last 90 days.

Lawmakers already have sporadic meetings throughout the year, but doing what McLeland contemplates would require more than the two-days-a-month schedule most study committees adopt each summer and fall. His idea would have more than a fifth of the Legislature - 23 members of the House committee and 13 members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee - meeting regularly, perhaps every day, for three extra months.

And that would move Kansas closer to having a full-time Legislature.


ontheotherhand 10 years, 10 months ago

The thoughts of having to worry about what the Kansas Legislature is going to cook up for an entire year (as opposed to only four months out of the year) makes me nauseous.

oldgoof 10 years, 10 months ago

"We can't fix this problem here today," said Rep. Joe McLeland" . Ha!! It was Joe McLeland, Melvin Neufeld and other conservatives in the House leadership who themselves decided strategically to defer all strategic budget decisions much later than usual this year. The budget hearings were a joke. They have absolutely NO standing to complain about the last-minute chaos they created. They WANTED it.
. Goof thinks ole Joe aspires to more time in Topeka himself to work. He is widely noted as a legislator who loves to have lobbyists take him to dinner so he can demonstrate his fine tastes in expensive wine. He is one of the best fed lawmakers in the state.

not_dolph 10 years, 10 months ago

Goof - you are exactly correct. These jokers have played around all session with the budget and made the choice at the beginning of the session to put all big money decisions off until the omnibus session. And 'Joebaby' isn't the only one on the best fed list for lobbyist. In fact, he and several other take pride in their ability to eat and drink as much on the 'interest's' dime, and demonstrating it doesn't matter by voting opposite at the appropriate time.

oldgoof 10 years, 10 months ago

Yep, Dolph, the LJW ought to do some reporting on the precise selections and cost of wines that ole Rep. Joe orders when he ropes lobbyists in to buy him (and a group of his friends) a fine meal.
... and this stuff of 'needing more time' is so much hokum, from the individuals who decided at the beginning of the session to defer the process until now. Based on Joe's actions, what the legislature should do reduce length of the session to two weeks. That way Joe can't sit on his hands for four months shilling gourmet dining experiences out of the lobbyists.

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