Legislative Update – March 18, 2019
I’m going to wade into waters I’d rather not be in. But I’ve not been given a choice – thanks to the determination by a handful of people who decided the Kansas Legislature needed to turn its attention to New York.
It would be easier for me to gloss over this topic, or ignore it altogether. But it was the biggest – maybe about the only – thing that happened last week.
SCR 1606 was a resolution drafted in the Senate. It issued a condemnation to the New York State Assembly in Albany, and in general, other states, for its recent decision regarding reproductive rights and abortion in that state. The resolution passed the House overwhelmingly, 85-38. It will now be processed by the Secretary of State’s office, where enrolled copies of the resolution will be delivered to the New York State Assembly, and the Governor of New York.
I voted against this. And there will be postcards. So many postcards. And they will likely say that I support “New York” style abortion laws, and would bring those laws to Kansas. My actual reason for voting against the resolution is because it was unnecessary. I thought it was a waste of time and money, and I expect the legislators in New York will glance at it, and quickly throw it away. If the New York Assembly sent the Kansas Legislature a condemnation regarding our relatively liberal gun laws, I’d react in much the same way. I’d look at it, pitch it in the trash can, and mutter to myself that New Yorkers ought to worry about New York, and let Kansans worry about Kansas.
The issue of reproductive rights is wrought with emotion, sensitivity, and conviction on all sides. It is deeply personal for many people, and I try to acknowledge and respect that. While I felt this resolution was unnecessary and forced debate on a sensitive issue without the substance of policy, I recognize that for some members of the Kansas Legislature – and for many Kansans – this is a core value.
That’s part of why this resolution was upsetting to me. It didn’t address any issue in Kansas. It didn’t address access to healthcare, tax policy, our budget, education, or any of the things we’re expected to handle on behalf of the people of Kansas. And, it didn’t affect reproductive policy in Kansas at all. It was a statement to another state that we didn’t like their actions, and I, personally, don’t see much value in that.
Remember that corporate tax bill?
It has passed the Senate and will now go to Gov. Kelly, and it’s widely expected that she’ll veto it. Then, it’s also expected, we’ll have to endure an attempt at a veto override in the House and Senate. Like I said last week, it’s part of some effort to draw some bright lines in the sand to show who has power over whom.
I outlined my reasons for voting against this bill previously. I’m not going to belabor the point – it’s largely an effort to eliminate some corporate taxes, with a few slight nods to working Kansans to both create better campaign messaging and put the Governor in a tough spot.
School finance – Deadlines, Smeadlines
The Kansas Attorney General asked the Kansas Legislature to address school finance legislation by March 15 so he could have time to prepare to address the Kansas Supreme Court – and get this litigation resolved once and for all.
As I write this, we’re two days past the deadline and there has been very little work done on education. Last week the Senate passed out a clean school funding plan that adequately addresses the inflation issue raised by the court. Meanwhile, the Kansas House K-12 budget committee is taking up another education bill that has a number of changes to the underlying formula. I think there’s a real conversation to be had about potential changes to how we fund and operate public education in the future. But that’s a conversation best saved for later – once we’ve addressed the matter at hand.
The Senate Bill will add about $92 million for schools, and holds the best chance of satisfying the court’s decision. It will now come to the House, and I’m hopeful we’ll address this issue, forthwith. I think the state is weary of the litigation, and it’s important to produce stable funding for our schools. I ran into a teacher this weekend who said when the legislature is fighting about school funding this time of year, teachers start wondering who might and might not be back next year – because they have no real idea what their budget might be in the coming school year.
Medicaid Expansion – The doctor still can’t see you
Nope. No movement on Medicaid expansion – and that’s only because there are a handful of people in the majority leadership who have decided they don’t want this to happen. We had three days of round table discussion about Medicaid and healthcare in general – but after listening to the discussion, I didn’t feel confident that leadership would suddenly have a change of heart.
In fact, some in leadership are not just blocking efforts to expand Medicaid – they’re actively working to undermine any chance of it happening. This week, in both the House and the Senate, funding for expansion, which was included in the Governor’s budget, was stripped from the budget in committee.
You’ll hear a lot of reasons why we shouldn’t expand Medicaid. The federal government might not pay (we don’t have those fears in other areas for federal money), it won’t save rural hospitals (another one closed this week), and it’s just helping “able-bodied” adults who don’t want to work hard enough to get health coverage (I keep looking around the statehouse, wondering who falls in the group of about 193 people who work in the Capitol that earn less than the coverage gap we’ve created by not expanding Medicaid).
Here’s the truth: If something needs to be done, there’s a way to get it done – especially if you’re in charge. The people of Kansas want to get this done. Rural communities are begging for it. Working families – well they’re too busy working for not enough money and struggling to care for their families to have spare time to moonlight as lobbyists. And that brings me to my next point…..
I think this session reveals quite a lot about the priorities and values of the people running the show in Topeka.
Consider this – there is only one thing the Kansas legislature is required to do, and that’s to produce a budget. That, of course, is a puzzle, because there are a number of different elements that compose the budget. Each piece of legislation has the capacity to add to the state’s obligations, or take away from its existing revenues. At the end of everything, however, putting together a budget is, really, our only charge.
When I put together a budget, I look at how much money I expect to have, how much I will owe to people, and from there I decide what I can, or can’t spend, on other things. I address the things I must have – food, shelter, utilities, and transportation – and then move down the line to other things. If I want something – like a new phone or computer – I either figure out how to make more money, or trim my expenses and save money until I can afford it. Some things are worth financing, but they generally have to be really big ticket items (ideally that outlive the financing period). Or short term financing that I’m confident can be paid off quickly.
But this year, we’ve started on the opposite end of things. We began this year by passing a big tax cut – which reduced our available revenue – before we even began talking about our expenses. We knew we had required expenses – like education – and we knew we had things that are important for us to figure out – like Medicaid expansion. But we spent the early part of the session worrying about how to, in effect, take a lower paying job.
It’s pretty clear what we need to do on education – we just need to do it. And it’s pretty clear that we need to expand Medicaid, for the people of Kansas, for our hospitals, and to help fuel our economy. And despite what misgivings some might have about it, if we were willing to be creative, inventive, and determined, we could figure this out in a way that satisfies most Democrats and Republicans (you can’t please everyone). Other states have been creative – they’ve drafted escape clauses, and they’ve explored charging modest premiums that help finance expansion. We certainly don’t lack creativity when it comes to corporate tax cuts and creating new tax credits. If we’d apply that same sort of energy to resolving school finance, expanding Medicaid, and crafting a responsible budget, I have no doubt that we could create reasonable policy that is fiscally sound, and advances the cause of Kansas.