For some reason, the atmosphere seems to be changed slightly in the Capitol this week, perhaps because the rescission budget was passed and signed by the Governor. Now we can move on to the regular budget issues for 2016 and 2017. The budget hole is large for 2016 and if anyone has a good idea how to fill the gap, they are keeping pretty quiet. To me, it seems fairly apparent that given the budget imbalance, taxes will eventually be raised. If so, the question is which taxes and how much.
A quick review of the budget has the gap between revenues and anticipated expenditures around $650M. Most of our general fund expenditures are for education and social services. So the challenge is to come up with a plan that reduces spending or increases revenues, or both. Other talk is about how long the session will be to find the right combination. We hope that combination is found early, but no one knows how long it will really take. It depends on how much everyone is willing to compromise.
Changing the voting dates for city and school elections has suddenly become a hot topic. A bill was introduced into the Senate late last week and was quickly put on the calendar for a hearing. It is SB 171 and includes several provisions, but the primary ones are to move the voting dates from spring to fall and to make those elections partisan if there is budget authority. Both schools and cities have budget authority, so they would become partisan elections. Sometimes it is difficult to find someone to run for those positions now and it seems this would only make it more difficult.
Secretary of State Kobach is again asking the Legislature to allow him prosecutorial power over voter irregularities, or attempted voter fraud. We were asked to do this a couple years ago but did not allow it at that time. The Attorney General is the appropriate place for those prosecutorial actions to occur.
Another bill gaining attention is a bill abolishing the death penalty. As odd as it may seem, the primary motivation to do this is that keeping someone incarcerated for long periods of time is less expensive than going through the myriad appeals and hearings before someone is actually executed. Talking points used to be, and still are, that some individuals are known to have been executed that were innocent. Even though there are several on death row, no one has been executed in Kansas for many years.
A hearing in the Utilities and Telecomm committee was on a bill that stiffens the penalties on calling and texting while driving. While it is difficult to put an actual number on how many injuries and fatalities are caused by cell phone use while driving, the number seems to be significant, perhaps as many as 25% or more of all vehicle wrecks. As a preventable cause of accidents, that is pretty high. I do not know if the bill will be worked and passed out of committee, but suspect it will be at some point. It really comes down to personal responsibility and additional laws may help remind people of the dangers, especially of texting and driving.
Miss Rodeo Kansas spent the day at the Statehouse. Abbey Pomeroy is from Hesston and was installed as the new Miss Rodeo Kansas the first of the year. We are all proud that she is a central Kansas native and will do well representing the western way of life.
Things are certainly starting to pick up speed and it is becoming more challenging to track everything that is happening. Because of that, please feel free to contact me at [email protected], or call at 785.296.7500 if you have questions on an issue.