Kansas won’t have to worry about consolidating four Congressional districts down to three in the 2011 legislative session, but it will have plenty of other problems to face.
Kansas won’t have to worry about consolidating four Congressional districts down to three in the 2011 legislative session, but it will have plenty of other problems to face. With a Republican governor and a massive Republican majority in both chambers, a new team and agenda will face the list of problems that need attention in the next session.
The budget is job one. In 2010 the legislative session was dominated with finding a way to overcome massive budget shortfalls. The solution was either cut spending or increase taxes, and the legislature chose massive cuts and a sales tax increase. The sales tax won’t likely be a long-term solution with the new regime, but if taxes drop then spending must be cut. Where the cuts hit, either surgical deep ones or general across-the-board ones, will make for the most controversial angle of the 2011 session.
Second, K-12 funding. Governor Brownback has already expressed interest in re-examining the base funding formula that determines how much each county or community’s school boards get to spend. In public statements the governor has mentioned a primary goal of getting more money into classrooms, which is usually code for cutting administrative positions or salaries. How to mandate that without triggering more lawsuits like 2005’s Montoy case remains to be seen, though.
Third, economic growth. Voters always expect government to fix the economy when it struggles, and every candidate pledges to rebuild the economy accordingly. Government schemes to solve economic downturns rarely work, but Governor-elect Brownback thinks a tax credit for people moving to rural areas and a tax cut for everyone else is a good plan. Only jobs can spur economic growth, and no plans have a clear path to additional job creation.
Fourth, higher education. College leaders are particularly concerned about how much more cutting can be done and how Brownback’s degree micromanagement program would hurt the pivotal element of economic recovery most states rely on – an educated workforce. The Governor-elect would like colleges to focus on specific programs such as Wichita State’s aviation program and KU’s School of Medicine. Presumably any student who wanted to major in one of the non-preferred programs would pay dearly for the opportunity.
Fifth, entitlements. With a new federal health care mandate possibly approaching, the state’s health care spending will change drastically. Either a new influx of money will have to be allocated to it or the existing scheme will have to shift. Governor Brownback has said he wants to address the state’s Medicaid funding, with speculation following that he would like to reduce state funding in favor of medical savings account, presumably for cost savings now and flexibility should the federal health care coverage mandate survive the many court challenges facing it.
Sixth, the balancing act. Ironically, when governments become unified under one party, the governing is often more chaotic than when power is split between the parties. Governor Brownback and his legislative liaison Tim Schallenburger will be under pressure from the newly elected conservatives in the House to press hard right, especially on social issues. But when the economy struggles, voters want focus there and not on abortion and gay marriage. If Brownback can successfully balance pragmatism and the interests of the center-right and polar-alliance wings of the party, he can be a rousing success as governor. If open warfare breaks out between wings of the party, all could be lost.
Seventh, redistricting. Even though there won’t be warfare on compacting federal seats, Kansas will have to redraw district lines this session. Always a contentious issue, drawing district boundaries often predetermines what kind of ideology that district’s representative will have and so every elected member of the legislature will have a stake in the new boundary lines of their districts. Redistricting is also of great concern to the western part of the state, because the results could signal a further shift of power to the eastern part of the state. Population is growing faster in eastern Kansas, so one of more state senate and house districts might shift from west to east, marginalizing western Kansas.