Political fuel

An interim study of gasoline prices in Kansas looks more political than practical.

If Kansas legislative leaders are trying to reduce the work of interim committees they appoint this year, why would they assign a committee to look at the price of gasoline in Kansas?

Just a week ago, leaders said they would respond to a shortfall in state revenues by cutting administrative spending by 2 percent. Included in those cuts, they said would be an effort to limit the number of interim committees that will meet before the 2009 session. This week, however, those same leaders added a study of Kansas gasoline prices to the charge of the Special Committee on Energy and Environmental Policy.

The special committee was established to look at other energy issues, specifically those related to the proposed coal-fired plants in western Kansas. Adding the gasoline price issue to the committee’s charge, however, will increase its workload and, therefore, its salaries and administrative costs.

The study was requested by Rep. Joe Patton, a Topeka Republican, who said that as he was campaigning door to door, people kept saying, “What about these gas prices?” Because of that, he and Senate President Steve Morris thought the state just should make sure that it isn’t doing anything that contributes to higher prices.

It’s not surprising that voters are concerned about gasoline prices, but the state’s influence over such matters is very limited, unless legislators propose to lower the state tax on fuels, which is highly unlikely. Even Morris said, “We’re not sure there is an issue there, just that oil’s going sky high.”

Gasoline prices in Kansas continue to be below the national average, so there’s no indication that Kansas faces any special problems in this area. The lack of any special problem and the highly probable lack of any special solution argues against spending taxpayer money on an interim study of gasoline prices.

However, in an election year, lawmakers facing re-election always want to be seen as “doing something” about the problems voters are talking about. A study of gasoline prices may accomplish nothing, but it gives at least Patton an opportunity to show voters he cares about what they care about.

There are practical reasons for legislative actions and there are political reasons. A study of gasoline prices in Kansas appears to fall into the political category.