The Kansas Legislature has again revealed an inept leadership,
a cabal that each year seeks another miracle of failure.
Of the many critical issues that confronted lawmakers this
year, only school finance drew serious regard and it came
grudgingly, in the final days of the session.
And in a stunning about-face, the Speaker of the House,
Ron Ryckman, boasted of grand accomplishments. “Look at
what we did,” he told the Lawrence Journal-World. “We’ve
got a record amount of money going to KPERS…a record
amount of money going to social services, a record amount
of money going to schools.”
That happened, yes. But Ryckman, a Republican from
Olathe, had worked tirelessly to stall or to smother the
achievement for which he attempted to take credit. From
January into early May, Ryckman, once a Brownback devotee,
had fought the legislature’s gathering march of moderation.
Now he claimed to lead the parade.
A few measures, like restoring university funding cuts or
reviving state pensions and the highway fund, were treated
like third-cousins at grandpa’s funeral. The rest, such as
Medicaid expansion, seemed to evaporate with scant notice.
Many legislators urged rehabilitation, advancement. But
Ryckman and the Senate President, Susan Wagle, their
majority leaders and many committee chairmen, seemed deaf
to the calls that Medicaid be expanded; that aid to higher education
be restored (some was); that the trusts for highways
and state employee pensions be revived by more than tokens;
that funding and reform of child welfare services, including
foster care, be enhanced. Attention was paid, but it seemed
more an afterthought, scratching at lists that have been held
over for years.
From the outset, leaders had muttered election-year claptrap
about cutting the cost of government, not improving
lives. Their miracle of failure builds the apology into the
message: The baseball pitcher who loses 15-0 but tells the
coach not to forget the two guys he struck out in the second
The session did what it had to do with school finance
because the Supreme Court ordered a plan for adequate
funding. Instead of going to work, the Republican leadership
stalled for months, then ordered another study, hoping
for something stingy. Instead it backfired, outlining the need
for roughly $2 billion in new money over four years, or
more. The legislature responded with $525 million over five
The leadership offered a malicious amendment to the state
constitution that would prohibit the courts or the governor
from any say in local school finance: no court appeals, no
governor’s veto, no recourse for citizen protest. It barely
passed the House Judiciary Committee (12-10) and remains
to be debated, yet a possibility.
At the final hour, a school aid bill was passed. It is unclear
whether it will satisfy the Court.
On other issues, little more than a whisper. If that.
A measure to improve statewide access to telemedicine
has been crippled by anti-abortionists. The clock ran out on
a so-called gun law reform, a proposal that Kansas recognize
out-of-state licenses for concealed handguns, and lower the
concealed-carry permit age in Kansas from 21 to 18.
Thus persists a belief that our legislative leaders struggle
Awareness is growing among members that enforcement
of nursing home standards has been woeful for decades.
Our voting laws are suppressive, no longer permissive.
Environmental controls, energy and consumer programs are
shrugged off without much thought. Funding and staff for
state regulatory agencies is at low ebb. The withering goes
beyond highways, education, social services (foster care is
only one nightmare) and Medicaid expansion; energy policy,
and control of lobbyists and political ethics go begging, to
name a few.
Republican leaders tried to counter last year’s $300 million
recovery for school funding with yet another tax cut, a
bill to prevent the state from capturing revenue from Trump
tax cuts. Early estimates had put the cost to the state at $500
million over five years.
The Senate approved the cut; the House did not.
Leaders’ tenacity to look ahead and to solve problems
remains distant. They are captured by the miracle of failure,
of shunting the complex or controversial to a dusty shelf and
declaring a job well done. This should haunt lawmakers as
they prepare for an election this year that meets the public
eye, and for a session in 2019 that inspires real leadership,
and not another miracle of failure.