It used to be called the “veto session” because most of the Kansas Legislature’s work was complete and the only reason lawmakers came back to Topeka was to consider possible overrides to gubernatorial vetoes.
It’s come to be known as the “wrap-up session,” which seems particularly appropriate this year considering how many budget matters legislators still have to wrap up — about $500 million worth.
There have been many reminders in recent weeks of the real-life impacts of the current budget crisis. A story in Saturday’s Journal-World noted that, even though the demand for nurses is strong and getting stronger, Kansas University will be accepting 19 percent fewer students for next year’s nursing class than it accepted two years ago. At their meeting Monday night, Lawrence school board members agreed not to renew the contracts of 44 teachers next year in response to reduced funding for the district.
On Tuesday, a statewide coalition urged legislators to prevent further cuts to schools, public safety and social services. Funding reductions have swelled the number of people with disabilities who are waiting for services and reduced personnel at prisons to levels that representatives say could affect public safety.
Knowing the needs are great, however, hasn’t produced a consensus in Topeka about how to deal with the problem. Gov. Mark Parkinson threw down the gauntlet Monday by promising to veto any budget that included more cuts. Undaunted, House leaders presented a revised budget that requires no tax increase but cuts education, social services and state employee pay — in addition to sliding about $86 million of tax increases for schools on to local property taxpayers. Senate budget negotiators say a tax increase is needed but haven’t been able to approve any increases.
Did we mention this wasn’t going to be easy?
Either legislators will have to come up with a plan Parkinson can accept or produce a budget that has the support of two-thirds of both House and Senate members so it can overcome the governor’s veto. It seems like an unattainable goal right now, but it will happen; it always does.
Sooner or later, legislators and the governor are going to have to meet in the middle. The sooner they do, the less money Kansas taxpayers will have to spend on the legislative session. Lawmakers and the governor need to apply themselves to the task at hand, accept that compromise is required, and complete their budget work as quickly as possible.