Martin Hawver
Guest columnist
This is the week that shapes the 2012 legislative session and much of what happens during the remaining years of Gov. Sam Brownback’s governorship.
Yes, he was in office last year, yes the Legislature met, but that was just the first date.
This is the year, starting Wednesday night when the governor presents his State of the State message and budget, which is clearly one that he thought up.
Last year?
He was working with much of what he was left when Democrats lost the governorship, a budget that was pretty much decided before he became a state employee, and not a lot of possibilities for the budget that is in place now.
Wednesday, we get the full-blown “Road Map for Kansas” for consideration. It’s a brand new start, and that State of the State message and his budget will be our first from-the-ground-up look at what he believes Kansans want the state to look like. It’s also the first clear chance for Kansans to see where their governor wants the state to go.
This comes at a time when state revenues are rising a dab and presumably at a time when a governor could essentially keep things pretty much the same, tossing a few bucks around here or there, or trying maybe one or two important things.
But Brownback clearly isn’t going to just nudge anything.
School finance? The system isn’t really broken, and $100 million or more—from growing revenues—would essentially keep things running fairly well. But he has outlined a dramatic change in how the state finances public schools—maybe with the primary intent of reaching that Kansas Supreme Court-endorsed $4,492 base state aid per pupil.
The Kansas Public Employees Retirement System clearly is broken, mounting up future liabilities that at some point, the state is going to have to fix—with money.
But, it’s a simmering problem, not a dramatic flare-up. It could be band-aided by lawmakers, but Brownback wants a big overhaul, reshaping the system into a “defined contribution” plan, in which pensions are based on how much an employee puts into the pot and how the stock market treats that investment. It’s a Republican cultural deal.
Medicaid is a growing issue; it’s costing the state more to maintain the health of the poor and their children. Federal aid, which amounts to maybe 60 percent of more than $2 billion in spending on that program, is certain to be cut this year or next.
Brownback is probably ahead of the curve on this one, but taking care of the poor is fraught with difficulties—each subgroup of the needy has its own industry and specialized needs. A tough one.
Taxes: The big one for the coming election cycle. Cutting taxes, well, who doesn’t like that in isolation? But tax-cutting is a cultural affair, too, deciding who gets cuts and demonstrating that lower taxes result in more jobs or even more revenue.
Whose taxes do you cut? The wealthy, on the chances they will spend more? Those with lower incomes in the hopes that they won’t slide onto social service budgets? Businesses that are by some presumed to expand and hire based on taxes, not on profitability of those expansions?
A big year. Not much in the way of little issues here, is there?
We’ll see how this starts out this week…
Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com