Martin Hawver
Guest columnist
There are few words besides, maybe, “the DNA doesn’t match” that spark more interest in the Legislature than “you have more money than we thought.”
It’s the latter, thankfully, that the Legislature and the governor and the state heard last week when the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group of officially designated gurus met and read the economic equivalent of tea leaves and squirrel entrails—and then delivered good news.
The news? That Kansas will take in $129.4 million more this fiscal year than lawmakers were told in November. And, the state is predicted to receive $122.8 million more than predicted earlier for the fiscal year which starts July 1.
Now, what’s better than that? With virtually no significant tax or spending legislation agreed to by this year’s Legislature, there is more money to spend or to save.
Surprisingly, having more money flowing into the State General Fund doesn’t really solve anything. The people who want to spend more money on schools, social programs or economic development proposals point to the pot of money and say there’s money to do what they want.
And the people who want to keep that money for other uses, or just want to keep that money on hand, say so what?
The real interest will be in the deals worked out and how they will show up at this year’s elections. There’s money available for a tax cut bill that will take effect next year, and there’s money for more spending and there is money that is almost purely political fodder for lawmakers and candidates who want to move to Topeka next winter.
Deciding just how that plays out will be the tricky part.
Do your potential voters—especially in the Republican primary elections for the state Senate—want lawmakers to spend money on income tax cuts, or property tax cuts, or to bolster school funding so that local boards of education don’t try to raise mill levies?
That’s the real fight here that is merely fueled by more state revenues. Who gets to decide how to use those revenues for the best political advantage? Now, there is this “good government” and “essential spending” and “lean and mean” stuff going on, but it is all about the elections and what lawmakers believe will get them reelected.
The results of that fight during the legislative wrap-up session that opens on April 25 and ends, well, nobody knows when, will to a large degree determine what happens in Kansas for the next four years.
Surprisingly, it was almost easier when money was tight. Nobody expected to get much in the way of funding or innovative new programs from a broke state. Agencies were just trying to protect the barest of their responsibilities and nobody expected tax cuts.
The good news? There’s more money for the state to spend on programs or tax cuts.
The bad news? By now, most Kansans know it.
Sounds like an interesting mix coming up for the Legislature’s wrap-up, doesn’t it?
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