Archive for Sunday, February 13, 2011

Budget strings

New Kansas House rules severely limit the give-and-take that should be part of a democratic budget process.

February 13, 2011


Kansans understand that state lawmakers face a difficult budget challenge this year.

Most Kansans also would applaud efforts to place a lid on spending in the state budget.

What many Kansans would object to, however, is bypassing the democratic legislative process to achieve those goals.

Rules passed by the Kansas House earlier this month give the House Appropriations Committee exclusive power for setting the total of the body’s proposed state budget. That means that as few as 12 House members — a majority of the 23-member Appropriations Committee — will set a budget limit that can’t be exceeded even by a majority vote of the entire House.

The rule change is being portrayed as a “pay-go” provision, which would require any spending increase to be offset by a spending cut elsewhere in the budget. On some level, that seems like a reasonable approach, but, in practice, it hamstrings any effort to make significant changes in the budget after it has come out of the Appropriations Committee. That committee always has been one of the most powerful in the House; now it’s power is almost absolute.

An example of how the provision will affect budget consideration played out last week when the House approved a bill to cut state spending for the current fiscal year. Among other things, the bill approved 7.5 percent salary cuts for state employees making more than $100,000 per year. The bill also cut state spending on special education to a level that some legislators contend will cost Kansas between $16 million and $25 million in federal education funds in future years.

Democrats proposed several unsuccessful amendments to restore some of that funding. Trying to accommodate the pay-go provision, Rep. Jerry Henry, Cummings, proposed raising funds by forcing the sale of excess state property. Members of the House Rules Committee wouldn’t allow that move because the budget had no line item for selling property and the funding was uncertain.

This situation illustrates just how difficult it will be to make any significant changes to the House budget proposal after it leaves Appropriations Committee. Giving the budget-writing committee so much control over the budget stifles the kind of give-and-take that should be part of the legislative process.

The rules also may widen the disparities between budget proposals passed in the House and in the Senate. Many constituents already are looking to the Senate to be a more moderate voice on some budget issues. If the House Appropriations Committee draws severe or unreasonable lines on state spending, negotiations with the Senate will become more difficult.

When Kansas voters elect their state legislators, they expect those people to be able to represent their constituents in all important matters facing the Legislature. Unfortunately, the new Kansas House rules severely limit the ability of the vast majority of House members to have any influence over the Legislature’s most important business: the state budget.

It will be interesting to see how the new rules play out during the session, but it’s hard to see them having a positive impact on the legislative budget process.


Richard Heckler 7 years, 3 months ago

These people are not fiscal conservatives but reckless thinkers. There is no foundation for much coming out this session thus far. This is more about using some approach pulled from thin air.

There is nothing exposed as to what this new session intends to do with their so called tax dollar savings. Where are these tax dollars going? How will this unknown use guarantee new economic growth?

Where is the substance?

Putting more state workers out of work cannot promote economic growth.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 3 months ago

This thinking should frighten taxpayers on all sides of the aisle. Our state economics cannot afford such ill conceived threats to the well being of Kansas. TABOR has some history of wrecking state economics.

Neoconservatives are not republicans. Republicans generally can be fiscally responsible.

Neoconservatives such as Brownback are following the neoconservative guideline that wrecks state economics basically written by Grover Norquist and the Koch Brothers:

"Armed with these dubious studies and lots of corporate AFPF dollars, local groups stuff mailboxes full of flyers and whisper in the ears of state politicians."

TABOR is a mutation of the Tax and Expenditure Limits (TELs) instituted in 28 states around the country over the past quarter-century, beginning with Proposition 4 in California in 1979. TABOR is like a conventional TEL on steroids: it has been pumped up with stricter spending limits and tighter restrictions on legislative action. Whereas TELs traditionally tied state government spending to faster-growing personal income, TABOR allows government budgets to grow only as fast as the population plus the inflation rate.

Furthermore, TABOR applies the population-plus-inflation adjustment to the prior year's actual expenditures, not to allowable or budgeted expenditures. So, as the CBPP notes, "when state budgets grow slowly or fall, as in the recent fiscal crisis, actual spending or revenues are likely to be lower than the level permitted by the formula. If this lower level becomes the new base … then the level of public services is permanently ratcheted down." Colorado's TABOR, the only one in effect so far, was also designed to be hard to reverse: only a ballot measure approved by the state's voters can do so.

Most of the financial backing for TABOR initiatives has come from antitax fanatics like Grover Norquist, White House insider and intellectual author of the Bush tax cuts, or brothers Charles and David Koch of oil pipeline conglomerate Koch Industries, heirs to their father's company and fortune. As co-owners of their $40 billion corporation, the Kochs have used their staggering resources to start an ultraconservative think tank designed to pump out ideological broadsides disguised as policy studies.

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) touts TABOR and other pieces of conservative legislation as overwhelming success stories, usually with validating data from like-minded (and like-funded) organizations. "It's no accident that TABOR's major champions … share many of the same free-market philosophies and goals. They also share many of the same funders--large corporate interests and right-wing private foundations--and in some cases, they share board members as well," concludes a 2005 report by the Bureau of National Affairs, a nonpartisan business news publisher.


texburgh 7 years, 3 months ago

"The bill also cut state spending on special education to a level that some legislators contend will cost Kansas between $16 million and $25 million in federal education funds in future years."

They don't "contend" at all- the Federal Dept. of Education has told the state that Kansas will lose the money next year and every year going forward - a permanent reduction - if Kansas does not meet the maintenance of effort level.

Also missed here is the fact that Jerry Henry tried a second time to restore the funding by taking the money from a state IT account. That was real money yet it was ruled out of order because the IT account was not specifically in that budget bill.

We have completely abandoned the idea of representative democracy. And it should have been reported that the rules change was proposed by Republicans and had votes only from Republicans. Speaker O'Neal appoints his cronies to the Appropriations Committee, hands them his orders, and they follow through. The budget - and the future of this state - is in the hands of 12 Republican legislators who have sworn their allegiance to Mike O'Neal.

The new Republican majorities around this country are dismantling representative democracy bit by bit. Welcome to the new order - the American oligarchy.

George Lippencott 7 years, 3 months ago

It has been my experience that the LJW does a good job of trying to balance opinions across the spectrum of the main stream. However, on occasion in my humble opinion they stray. This morning’s editorial is a case in point. It is accurate but from my perspective incomplete. Discussion can be found at:

wastewatcher 7 years, 3 months ago

Yes, these are tough rules. But with no rules like this the liberal big spenders got us into the mess we find today. I support the premise that if you want to spend more, you must have a source for the money you want to spend. That is simply the way families and businesses have to operate. Kansas needs a heavy dose of common sense.

Orwell 7 years, 3 months ago

"if you want to spend more, you must have a source for the money you want to spend."

I agree completely, and part of our elected representatives' jobs is to consider whether it's necessary to raise revenues. A rule that prohibits even the consideration of such action is antidemocratic (small "d"), antirepublican (small "r") and terrible public policy. It says, in effect, a small handful of people can prevent open debate and a majority vote by our elected representatives.

George Lippencott 7 years, 3 months ago

Rule does not prohibit that. Of course rational process suggests that if you want more money to spend you raise taxes. Where is the tax proposal. Announcing something to the press is not the way that gets done. What is the bill number?

jafs 7 years, 3 months ago

The rule does in fact prohibit that.

It says that any spending increases must be offset by spending cuts.

That means they can't raise revenue instead.

George Lippencott 7 years, 3 months ago

JAFS you are very literal. You raise the taxes first so that you can have more spending. You can not come in with a tax increase on a spending bill at the end of the session and oh by the way such an action would have probably been ruled out of order in the past Just the way the system has always worked. You want more money you raise taxes. Of course if the majority of Kansans do not share your strong belief in raising other people's taxes that just may not happen. As I said, where is the tax bill? Time is running out.

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