Tuesday, April 19, 2011

They're Trying to Save Kansas

The November 2010 election brought a great deal of new hope to many in Kansas who have long dreamed about a state government that would be truly reflective of its citizens -- socially and fiscally conservative, enacting legislation that would protect a culture of life, encourage marriage and traditional values, defend liberty and freedom, uphold the rule of law, and promote economic prosperity and fiscal responsibility.

After all, after 8 years (Graves) of left-wing Republican leadership and 8 years (Sebelius/Parkinson) of left-wing Democratic leadership and over that same period, ongoing fights in both houses of the legislature where often conservatives seemed, at some points, to hold just a couple dozen or even fewer seats, 2010 seemed to represent the first proverbial "lights at the end of the tunnel" for those who have been fighting for conservative principles for some 10, 20, or even 30 years in Kansas, back to when social and fiscal conservatism were an after thought.

With a conservative House and a conservative Governor in Sam Brownback, the prospects for significant conservative progress seemed strong. Even with the more liberal leaning Senate still in the way, the hope was that at least some significant steps could be made in the first two years, and by 2013, a conservative leadership could take over the Senate, paving the way for more substantial reforms, particularly when concerning the state budget.

To be clear, significant progress has been made in some areas -- on the life issue, for example, two critical pieces of legislation on fetal pain, parental consent, and late term reporting requirements made it through both houses and have been signed by the Governor, with a bill on clinic licensure hopefully to make it through as well in the veto session. Critical Voter ID legislation, though slightly weakened from what would be ideal, made it through both houses and has been signed by the governor. Workers Compsensation legislation has as well. The Health Care Freedom Amendment picked up 17 more votes than it did in 2010, passing the House, but stalling in the Senate, at least for right now -- although a statutory version has made it. A bill reforming the judicial selection process for the Kansas Court of Appeals passed the House, but is stalled in the Senate. Still, that's progress.

This is all good and important. However, the big "elephant in the room", the Kansas budget crisis, remains. And, if there was anything that many conservatives and fiscally conservative independents thought was truly going to happen this session, it was going to be a House of Representatives holding the line on spending by passing a budget that would have, at the very least, 2 to 4% growth, if not an actual hold on spending. Yes, the Senate, with its liberal leadership, was still going to be an issue, but at least the House would lay the law down and pass a prudent budget that put Kansas back on the path to fiscal sanity. Right?

Wrong.

The first disappointment, fiscally, started out when the House decided to hold what can only be described as a "fake vote" on the repeal of the sales tax increase in 2010 -- the sales tax increase which has, when combined with local sales taxes, put some cities in Johnson County over the 10% mark on sales taxes. Without any form of a rebate or exemption for necessary products, not only does this hurt low and middle income Kansans, it also puts businesses near any of our neighbors, particularly Missouri, at a severe disadvantage.

But, at least that was partially rectified when they passed legislation that would eventually, given certain economic conditions, phase out the individual income tax. While this blog remains skeptical of a "fair tax" style approach in which sales taxes are dominant revenue generator, it is nonetheless a positive thing to reduce taxes of any kind, although we'd prefer to see have seen the sales tax repealed and the income tax reduced. That would be, after all, the fiscally conservative thing to do for a supposedly fiscally conservative House of Representatives, right?

Well, apparently not.

Because not only did the House fail to roll back the regressive sales tax hike, it also decided to pass a budget which really was only modestly different from budgets that Queen Kathleen and Parkinson offered in the past several years. The 6%+ hike in state spending, which came after a billion dollar increase in state spending over just the last two years, is simply not justified at this point in time. It would be one thing if the House were just like the Senate, which only has maybe 14 fiscally conservative votes. In past years, the House was a difficult place too, with a lot more Democrats and a few more moderate Republicans.

November 2010 supposedly fixed all that, with a new truck of 33 freshman, all of whom were conservative, all of whom rode the wave of the tea party movement and its fiscally conservative call to action.

Yet, when the budget bill came up for a vote, in a series of three votes, it was apparent that fiscal conservatism apparently doesn't mean the same thing to all Republicans.

Rep. Owen Donohoe offered an amendment to simply roll back spending to FY 2011 levels. That is, keep them the same. It only achieved 8 votes. EIGHT.

Rep. Lance Kinzer and Rep. Kasha Kelley offered an amendment to roll back the proposed budget by $100 million dollars, a modest amount which would still put state spending ahead of inflation+population growth. It only garnered 46 votes, 17 short of passage, and some may have voted for it simply because they know it would fail.

What's even sadder is that another amendment was offered which would have reduced the budget proposal by just $50 million. It only got 55 votes.

These staggering, disappointing, mystifying votes, particularly in light of the general election, come just before yet another report indicating that revenues are short of expectations, and that Kansas unemployment is really not getting any better.

The silver lining in these disappointments is a group of conservative Republicans, on both the House and Senate side, who are working their collective tails off to put Kansas back on the path to prosperity, reign in spending, reduce the growth of government, and push for meaningful reform to our state education system which will have long lasting effects.

These individuals are a mix of veterans and freshmen, and many of them are from right here in Johnson County. The veterans include State Representatives Lance Kinzer, Anthony Brown, Kasha Kelley, Owen Donohoe, Peggy Mast, and Brenda Landwehr on the House side, along with Senators Mary Pilcher-Cook, Julia Lynn, Ray Merrick, Ty Masterson, Rob Olson, Dennis Pyle, and Steve Abrams on the Senate side. The freshmen, mainly on the House side, include predominantly Johnson County figures, including Amanda Grosserode, John Rubin, Brett Hildabrand, Jim Denning, Greg Smith, Rob Bruchman, Charlotte O'Hara, Bob Montgomery, and Kelly Meigs.

This band of courageous conservatives are fighting the good fight, standing up to leadership and demanding fiscal responsibility and that conservatives actually do what they say they would do when they were walking door-to-door in November -- LEAD.

Sadly, what other Republicans seem to be doing is paying more attention to process and politics than policy and prudence, placing more importance on simply the act of passing a budget than passing a budget that truly puts us on the path that voters expect. These Republicans, in short, need a trip to the "principles office".

Make no mistake, if the efforts of folks like Kinzer, Pilcher-Cook, Brown, Meigs, Grosserode, Rubin, Hildabrand, Smith, Kelley, Lynn, and others are in vain, and all a "conservative" House and a "conservative" Governor means is that we are simply less egregious and socially conservative versions of our predecessors, we will have failed as a state and missed what was a shining opportunity to rescue Kansas from years of fiscal irresponsibility, unsustainable growth in government, and the continual propping up of an education system that is more about saving a system than it is educating children.

In our view, we have about two more sessions and one more election cycle to fix this. In the meantime, our profound thanks and enthusiastic support needs to be given to the above individuals and others like them.

Make no mistake, they're trying to save Kansas.