Thursday, December 18, 2014

HAWVER: State budget crafted by four lawmakers

By MARTIN HAWVER, At the Rail | 5/5/2014

The Kansas Legislature passed the state budget early Saturday, and while that’s probably a good thing, there is this little procedural business in getting it passed that is troubling.

In combination with the clock and weariness of legislators, the state’s budget for the coming fiscal year was essentially written by four people. Yes, just four people.

The Kansas Legislature passed the state budget early Saturday, and while that’s probably a good thing, there is this little procedural business in getting it passed that is troubling.

In combination with the clock and weariness of legislators, the state’s budget for the coming fiscal year was essentially written by four people. Yes, just four people.

There are still 40 senators and 125 state representatives, and the House and Senate have budget committees that consider the budget bills they send to the full House and Senate for debate. Sounds pretty orderly.

But this year for the first time, the House passed a budget whose provisions never spent a minute being debated by the full House. The budget — as it was presented to the House — was assembled by two Republican senators and two Republican representatives, and sent to the full House for a simple up-or-down vote. That’s it.

The Senate earlier this spring passed a complete budget bill that established the chamber’s position on how to spend taxpayers’ money. The House never did. Instead, the House agreed to a conference committee report — that’s the product of what became two House and two Senate leadership-appointed negotiators’ views on the budget. Democrats on the conference committee were jettisoned by an agree-to-disagree motion that made them unnecessary to pass the final conference committee report to each chamber.

Once the conference committee report reached each chamber, it was “yes,” pass it and go home or “no,” don’t pass it and sit around while a new spending package is assembled.

Is this under-the-dome stuff? Yes, but it’s also Kansas government. Most Kansans’ legislators didn’t get an opportunity to propose amendments or spending that might be good for their constituents.

Seems a little less-than representative government, but in Kansas Republicans have strong majorities in both the House and Senate, and conservatives among the Republicans have strong majorities within their party in both chambers.

And, if Democrats, or maybe short people, had majorities it’s difficult to believe that they wouldn’t use the same, if relatively unsettling, tactics to put together a budget they want. If you have the votes, you can pretty well determine what happens. No doubt about that.

And, this is the second year of a budget cycle and most of this budget bill was tune-ups to financing government that couldn’t be foreseen last year. Things change and most of the new budget was making more than 100 small tweaks to the year-old budget.

But there is this business about the House approving on a take-it-or-leave-it basis a budget that most of the members didn’t have any chance to offer amendments to, or at least to debate in a manner that might see their views included.

Now, the dollars and cents probably got to agencies and programs that need the money but the process was a little unsettling for long-time Legislature-watchers. House members who wanted little changes didn’t get a chance to propose them on behalf of their constituents.

Not quite schoolbook representative government, but it worked, and the budget is passed, the legislative session was adjourned faster than any in the past 40 years and legislators are back home again. That may be good enough ...

Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report. Visit his Web site at www.hawvernews.com

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