To keep our readers better informed about the state government actions that impact our communities, we feature an update columns each Monday from one of northeast Johnson County’s elected officials: Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf. Rep. Clayton submits this week’s update:
This week, the Kansas Legislature will convene for Veto Session, after a break of a little over three weeks. Traditionally, the Veto Session exists so that the legislature can consider overriding any vetoes the Governor may have made to bills that we passed. That said, the one thing that is at the forefront of all legislative concerns is our budget, and the revenue plan that funds it.
One good thing about your State Legislature is that we are constitutionally bound to balance the budget every year. It is incumbent upon legislators to handle your tax money responsibly and effectively. I have grave concerns about the budgetary process as we move ahead into the final days of the Legislative Session.
Traditionally, the budget process works as follows: The House budget committees work on sub-sections of the full budget, then present the committee suggestions to the full Appropriations committee, who then further alter these suggestions, and then the entire budget will advance to the full House of Representatives, where all 125 members are free to amend the budget bill prior to passage. If done right, your House legislators will spend about five to eight hours on the Floor debating your budget, possibly more if contentious issues arise.
This is not going to happen this year. Because there are concerns that the budget could be amended to include policy pieces not wanted by Leadership, the House will instead vote on your budget in the form of a conference committee report. This type of bill is not amendable, and simply requires a yes-or-no vote. While members may speak to our opinions regarding the contents of the bill, there is no opportunity for members to make any changes.
The budget conference committee typically consists of six legislators: The chair, vice-chair, and ranking minority members of House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means. But that number has been reduced to four legislators due to the passage of a procedural motion known as an Agree to Disagree. What an Agree to Disagree does is to cut the ranking minority members out of the bill negotiation process, usually to reduce deadlock and to speed up the legislative process. At this point, only two members of the House of Representatives have any say about what will or will not be included in the budget.
The legislative branch of government has one primary function: to produce a balanced budget. The citizens in each legislative district are able to elect a house member and a senator, with the understanding that these officials will then be able to represent them in the managing of their tax dollars. Although this process is perfectly legal, it does give us pause to reflect on this process, and to wonder: is this really how we want our government to function?
As it currently stands, the budget proposal from the House Appropriations committee seeks to spend $6.477 billion, and revenues that are projected to be at $5.811 billion. Despite that large gap between spending and revenue, there are no proposals that seek to make additional cuts, and no tax proposals that will allow for a permanent fix to the massive structural imbalance in the state revenue plan.