Members of the Kansas Legislature had a few late nights at the end of the 2010 legislative session. They finished up the year with three disastrous bills sometime in the early-morning hours following an all-night marathon.
Their actions in the waning hours of the session should cause them many more sleepless nights. They subverted the legislative process and shut the people out while jamming through legislation that will cost Kansas taxpayers collectively, and as individuals, millions of dollars.
We knew things weren’t going to be pretty at the outset of the session. There was time to prepare.
Instead, last-minute amendments and budget proposals flew through the in the final hours. State senators dazzled by throwing out ways to save money or garner new revenue.
Sell state assets, one legislator proposed. Allow school districts to raise extra funds by increasing their local option budgets, another suggested. Still another legislator sparked debate by suggesting lawmakers freeze their own pay for two years. All cost-saving amendments failed, and in the end, the Senate voted 23-17 for a budget drafted by a renegade group of Senators. They drafted a budget somewhere in the dark halls of the Capitol with no public input. It didn’t pass committee. It didn’t even see the light of day until a bill was gutted on the Senate floor and replaced with a 640-plus page budget flush with a 1 cent tax increase. Another last-minute bill offered corporate welfare cooked up by the Kansas Department of Transportation for BNSF.
Legislators who represent Edgerton weren’t told of goodies in the transportation bill that boost BNSF to the tune of $35 million until a few days before the session ended. It’s not a giveaway as the funds must be repaid. However, some BNSF tax dollars are now dedicated to that project alone and can’t be used to balance the state budget. Those tax dollars through 2045 will not be available to maintain or even boost school funding. They won’t be used to provide services to the neediest of Kansas families. The waiting list for services for disabled Kansans remains. Those tax dollars won’t be used for services that benefit all or even most Kansans. Instead, they’ll be used to pay off loans on a project for a company that made more than $1 billion last year. Thanks, Kansas Legislature.
Next year’s budget will cost Kansas families approximately $36 additionally each month. That’s at a time when actual salaries are decreasing. Although the budget suggested the 1 percent sales tax will eventually sunset, the rest of us should know better. We’re now on the hook eternally for an additional 1 cent of every dollar we spend in Kansas starting in July. That’s the lesson history has to teach us.
What little juice remains in the Kansas economy will now be siphoned off to state coffers, but no residents or interested parties were given an opportunity to object through committee hearings or even through legislators’ townhall meetings.
For the last two years, the legislative process has been perverted. Kansans should be embarrassed by the circus of their Legislature. Legislators should be ashamed with their inability to cut spending. There’s an election in November, and the entire House will be up for re-election. Unfortunately, the biggest clowns are in the Senate, but it’s time to clean up the Big Top in Topeka.