Editorial: A shameful waste of time

Lawmakers are failing Kansans by not getting down to business in the critically important wrap-up session.

The Journal-World recently reported that a large number of Kansas legislators planned on Wednesday to be out of the Statehouse and instead attending a tour of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, Mo. Given the state’s budget crisis, the only way that field trip would be a good use of time is if the bank is handing out free samples.

Earlier this month the Legislature returned from a break, and leaders in the Senate said the lawmakers in that chamber should be prepared to start working some weekends to fix the state’s budget shortfall and school funding crisis. They did not work the weekend.

Not only that, there are questions about how much work gets done during the weekdays. A column by Journal-World Statehouse reporter Peter Hancock noted that both chambers have developed a routine of passing some ceremonial resolutions at 10 a.m. and voting on some minor bills at 2 p.m.. “But that schedule seems to be more about making sure lawmakers stay in the building at least most of the day,” the column notes. “Otherwise, the vast majority of rank-and-file members who don’t serve on school finance, tax or budget committees really would have little incentive to show up each day.”

If the little amount of cash the state of Kansas has could earn interest as well as the Kansas Legislature earns its reputation for ineptitude, this budget crisis would be solved.

The Kansas Senate is turning into that bad boss that every employee has to deal with at some point. The same J-W column notes that the Senate budget committee has passed its two-year budget plan, but Senate leadership won’t allow the full Senate to vote on the plan. Does that sound familiar? Hurry up and get that report done so that I can put it on the shelf.

Of course, there is much political strategizing behind all this inaction. There are various camps that want a tax plan heard before a school finance plan, and others who want vice-versa. Senate leaders are playing hardball on this tactic, and thus the stalemate and inaction.

Here is a thought for Senate leaders: Have a bit of humility. The two key Senate leaders — President Susan Wagle and House Majority leader Jim Denning — are both part of the conservative wing of the GOP that got hammered in the last election. Wagle and Denning already have proven they don’t have all the answers.

More importantly, their political calculus is wrong. How do they expect to convince the Democrats and moderate Republicans to change their position on the issue of the school finance debate needing to happen before the tax debate? Every day that there is a stalemate, the moderates and the Democrats can blame the conservatives, and the public will believe them. Granted, Democrats and moderates aren’t blameless. They could do more to develop a school finance plan, even if a timeline on a hearing for it is unclear.

Regardless, it is maddening to watch. Remember, this stalemate isn’t even about the merits of the legislation. It is about which proposal gets heard first.

It is a shameful situation. Surely sanity will find its way into the legislative chambers at some point.

Until then, our best hope is that the Federal Reserve left the vault unlocked.