Capitol Update: Rep. Clayton concerned with ‘dire’ budget projections following COVID-19

Rep. Stephanie Clayton says it's imperative "we keep a clear head and maintain a solid, reliable, and functional government that can withstand a crisis." File photo. 

Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Sen. Mike Thompson and Rep. Cindy Neighbor are scheduled to send updates this week. Rep. Neighbor did not submit a column.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton’s column is below.

The legislature typically would be engaged in or finishing up with what we refer to as Veto Session, where we wrap up all unfinished business before the official end of the session, Sine Die. Our spring reconvening was originally scheduled to begin on April 27th, but was delayed, and a small committee of legislators will determine this week when or if we return.

The Kansas Legislature has one constitutional duty, which is to balance the annual budget. Despite the fiscal turmoil caused by Covid-19, we have a balanced budget for this year. This is largely due to prudent actions last year, which resulted in a healthy ending balance which allows for stability, for a while.

Although the bare necessities of legislation have been taken care of, politics, unfortunately, still remain. It is an election year, and many politicians seek to bring home a big political win before campaigning begins. This is an understandable situation, of course, but we have found ourselves in a crisis situation, where the moves that we make should have nothing to do with firing up the emotions of our constituents, and everything to do with setting up a solid, functional government.

It is unfortunate for the citizens of Kansas that politicians often lack the discipline to make sensible, measured, and often boring budgetary choices. In 2011, plans to replace a 1970’s computer system for the Department of Labor were scrapped in favor of then-popular austerity measures. As a result, we have a system that has repeatedly crashed and has flat-out failed Kansans in need. Many people are clamoring for a re-open, not because they are petulant or bored, but because they can’t afford to stay at home.

Should the legislature reconvene this year, my top priority remains expanding Medicaid. Access to healthcare for workers whose employers will not provide health care for them has always been important, but it is especially important now.

As we look into next year, another grave concern lies on the horizon: our budget. Our projections are dire, and Johnson County’s most important economic development tool is in danger, again. Public Education is already under attack, as many are now saying that, because of how well we have handled distance learning, that perhaps education should be massively cut and reformed.

Distance learning has made me value our public education system even more. While my children and I have found a rhythm for our “new normal”, this is an emergency situation, and not the caliber of education that I expect Kansas children to have if they are to master success in a global economy. As we look ahead and mend the damage done to our governmental infrastructure, it is imperative that we keep a clear head and maintain a solid, reliable, and functional government that can withstand a crisis.

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