Kansans can only hope that state legislators come to their senses in the next three weeks and return to Topeka ready to deal with the many key issues they left unresolved when they left the Capitol last Friday.
Perhaps the most egregious piece of business left unfinished was passage of a supplemental budget bill. This is not the budget for the coming fiscal year; it is an appropriation to help address budget shortfalls for the current year. Passage of the bill on Friday should have been routine. A House-Senate conference committee had agreed on the terms, but when it came time to sign the committee report, members of the Kansas House rejected the measure based on how the supplemental funds for K-12 schools should be financed.
There was no disagreement about the amount of the $24.5 million appropriation, but the governor and the Senate wanted the money to come from the state general fund while the House wanted to take the money from state highway funds. Because of that relatively minor issue, legislators failed to pass the appropriations bill and will have to take it up again when they return to Topeka on April 25.
In the meantime, various state entities will have to figure out how to keep operating without the supplemental funds they needed. In addition to school districts, the appropriations bill also included money to offset shortfalls in docket fees to fund state court operations and income to operate state parks. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss has indicated that without the funding, court employees may be furloughed and courts closed for up to five days. The opening of state parks also may be delayed. The supplemental appropriations also would have addressed caseload increases for nursing homes and Medicaid along with other important services — all of which now are on hold for at least three weeks.
In addition, the Legislature’s delay in approving redistricting maps for the Kansas House and Senate and the U.S. House is pushing the state dangerously close to the June 1 filing deadline for legislative and congressional candidates. Those candidates can’t file for office or start their campaigns until they know for sure that they live in the district they hope to represent. One of the Senate’s last acts before leaving Topeka Friday was to vote down a congressional redistricting map that cut Topeka in two in order to keep Manhattan in the 2nd District.
The Kansas Legislature’s spring recess is supposed to come after most of the business of the session is done. The intent is for legislators to return in three weeks mostly to tie up loose ends and consider overriding any vetoes issued by the governor during the break. In recent years, it has become routine for the budget and several other key issues to be left until the “veto session,” but, this year, legislators have been unable to agree on just about anything — even the supplemental funding for the current year’s budget.
During the next three weeks, Kansans may have an opportunity to speak with some of their state representatives. If they do, they should let them know it’s time to step up to the responsibilities that go with the job they were elected to do.