July 27, 2014

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: Charlotte O’Hara

Rep. Charlotte O’Hara

27th District

How can Kansas, with a Republican Governor and Republican control of both the House and Senate, pass budgets that have a 6.7 percent increase in the State General Fund?  How can an amendment to the appropriations bill in the House enacting a spending freeze at 2011 levels only garner 8 votes out 125?  Why wasn’t the 1-cent increase in Kansas’ state sales tax repealed, a repeal on which many freshmen Republicans ran?

How can east coast governors, in the land of liberals, Republican Gov. Christie and Democrat Gov. Cuomo cut spending to begin to bring their budgets under control while Kansas, in the land of conservatives, increase spending by  6.7 percent over 2011 levels and an astounding 15 percent increase over 2010?

The world indeed seems to have turned upside down and inside out.

Well, here’s my perspective for what it is worth.  Gov. Brownback came home to Kansas after 12 years in Washington with a wonderful opportunity to lead our state out of this spending-addiction cycle of more resources going to the public sector, which requires ever increasing our taxes, which drives more and more businesses out of Kansas, which requires even more increases in taxes.

Gov. Brownback chose to go the less-bold road of holding the status quo (opposed the repeal of the one cent sales tax and raided the Kansas Department of Transportation for $200 million) with promises that as soon as the Legislature is out of session and the administration sees our tail lights leaving, that is when the changes will be made.

OK. Nice story, but I thought it was the Legislature’s job to pass a conservative appropriations bill that would have at least capped spending at 2011 level and made the necessary cuts to truly balance our books. Yes, education would have taken an additional $257 million in cuts (approximately 8 percent total cut), but the state’s reserves would have increased by $200 million.

Meanwhile the schools have $750 million of unencumbered cash in their reserve funds while the state reserves estimated in the House version of the appropriations bill is $78 million (which is now reduced an additional $10.1 million due to another increase in estimates of Human Resources caseloads).  Schools are sitting on more than 10 times the amount of estimated reserves for the entire Kansas State Budget.

So my friends, it’s up to you. You cannot trust the overwhelming Republican House and Senate to abide by the Republican platform of less government, lower taxes or opposing illegal immigration. (It’s interesting how Republicans went flying from the immigration issue, but at least now I know who I don’t want in a foxhole to watch my back).

No, Topeka’s kick-the-can-on-down-the-road mantra is alive and well with the attitude of “there’s always next year when we politicians will really be brave and will get the job done”.  Do you know how long that excuse has been used?  It seems this annual game plan has been used extensively in both the Senate (where, at least they have the reputation of being liberal) and the House. (That really surprised me, because I really believed House Leadership was fiscally conservative).

With the budgets the House and Senate passed we simply have set ourselves up with an impossible task for the 2013 budget year that will require even deeper cuts (which we won’t make) and the sunset of the .6 cent sales tax will be kissed goodbye.

Peasants with pitchforks are needed to get the attention of the Topeka elite. They don’t think that you, the voters, are paying attention.  The Topeka elite believes that they can operate in the Capitol bubble and not have to bear the consequences at the ballot box in 2012.  I hope they are wrong, because we need another dramatic defeat of incumbents who annually pass appropriation bills with spending increases intact.  Then, and only then, will the message come through loud and clear: The good people of Kansas will not stand by and watch silently as their state is brought to the brink of bankruptcy.

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