The headline in Tuesday’s Journal-World was dreary: “News is not good for state budget.” With state tax receipts down 12 percent for the first quarter of the year, the headline fit the mood at the Statehouse.
Indeed, the news is not good for the state budget — but perhaps the timing is.
When legislators begin the 2010 session on Jan. 11, they’ll have a rare opportunity. They’ll have the chance to put politics on the back burner, because, apparently, they will be led by a governor who has chosen to do just that.
Gov. Mark Parkinson continues to stand by his previous statements that he will not seek the governor’s seat in 2010 nor any other public office. Although the news about the state’s finances may be dreary, the air in the Statehouse may be clearer than ever.
In past years, the Statehouse has been too clouded for the public’s good. There were concerns that former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius was letting her higher political aspirations too heavily guide her decision-making for the state. Equally, there were concerns that Republican legislators were more interested in hindering Sebelius’ advance than working as productive partners.
Hopefully, all of that is behind us now. We hope legislators and the governor will enter the session with a greater level of trust that will allow both sides to honestly look at issues that previously have been political impossibilities.
What those issues may be, remains to be seen. The list of items that have been too prickly to touch, though, is long: Consolidation of everything from school districts to state agencies; structural changes to the state’s pension system; and a myriad of topics related to declining populations in entire regions of the state. All could produce potential savings and efficiencies that could make the state more financially sound for both the short and long terms.
Those issues and many others can best be addressed in an environment where lawmakers and the governor believe both are looking for the best path toward progress, not political prosperity.
None of it will be easy, but for the first time in quite some time, it at least seems possible.