Capitol Chatter
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Capitol Chatter

Tom Krebs

Monday, February 27, 2017

“Admission is free and characters abound”
The Good: I've never seen so many men wasted so badly.
A number of readers of this blog, when they weren’t covering a school event, attending a civic club, or actually spending time supporting their own kids’ activities, have flipped through the channels on a Saturday morning and stumbled onto the 1966 Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
No, the session, at turnaround, is not a Wild West shoot-em-up (in spite of one representative’s inability to leave his concealed carry piece strapped to his ankle), but that title can go a long way in describing the action to date.
The Good? The coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats in the House gives the political center power it has not seen since a similar coalition held sway in the Senate during the 2011 and 2012 sessions.
First and foremost, with a vote to spare, it provided the horsepower to override the governor’s veto and rescind the tax plan put in place in 2012.  Those cuts have led to decreases in promised spending to K-12 schools, massive sweeps of highway funds, cuts to higher education that have triggered tuition increases, reductions/elimination of tax deductions, credit downgrades for the state, and sales tax increases.  To many, they have put the budgets in FY 18 and FY 19 in absolutely dire straits, particularly if a Supreme Court ruling were to order more spending on schools.
By flexing that muscle, Medicaid expansion, which had been bottled up in committee, was given the opportunity to be debated on the House floor, a goal of the coalition the last two years.  Though not quite garnering a veto-proof majority, a bill carrying the Medicaid expansion was passed on Final Action the day following the veto override.
The Bad?  The cohesiveness of the coalition was put to the test when, also through a floor amendment, the body was given the chance to reinsert language in statute mandating the return of the teacher due process language removed two years ago.  The amendment passed with several votes to spare but by almost 20 votes fewer than the veto override.  To Democrats and over two dozen Republicans, the reinsertion was the successful end to an important campaign promise.  But for others, it put pressure on an agreement reached two years ago between the major educational organizations that allowed for a unified front when faced with important contentious issues and/or their desire to leave the decision to local boards.  The bill did pick up a few more votes on Final Action.
The Ugly? Clearly, the rest of the session is going to be absolutely mired in trying to find a tax plan that brings a structurally balanced budget into being.  On one side will be the governor and a shrinking core of supporters desperately hanging onto a supply-side vision that income taxes are the primary hurdle in achieving a thriving economy.  It will lobby for increased sales taxes, taxes on services, fewer tax exemptions and tax credits, securitizations of the master tobacco settlement, and more cuts.
On the other side is the mod/D coalition that insists, after over four years of implementation, the plan is a miserable failure and is putting essential core state services – education, transportation, corrections, social services – at considerable risk of long-term degradation.  It wants to restore rates, add another tax bracket, and eliminate the LLC exemption.  But that might not even be enough when funding for a new school finance plan needs to be identified.
The 85 votes to override included one member who actually voted for the cuts in 2012, many members who voted against them, and a whole lot of people who were elected last fall to fix an obvious problem. A fair number of the 85 took a political risk by turning their back on a governor elected in 2010 with a sweeping mandate and re-elected in 2014 with a much smaller margin but who was still supported by a large number of legislators that were booted in 2016. They also voted against their own Speaker.
Let’s hope those votes were not wasted badly.

Tom Krebs is a recently retired KASB staff member who survived nine legislative sessions.  He is a former teacher, administrator and school board member. For more news from the statehouse and around the education world in general, follow him, if you dare, on Twitter at TomKrebs1. Again, admission is free, characters abound and views are his and his alone!
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