March 3, 1999
At approximately the halfway point in this session, the situation is normal in the Kansas Legislature. There is a lot of huffing and puffing going on, there is some name-calling, the Republican religious right-wingers are bent on doing God’s work rather than the state’s work, and whether by design or by accident the lawmakers seem once again to be headed for overtime.
In the midst of all this, Gov. Bill Graves said he will support Texas Gov. George Bush for president in 2000, a move many interpret as a clear indication that Liddy Dole is running for vice president, and that a Bush-Dole ticket is more than just a possibility. If nothing else, Bush-Dole fits well in a headline.
Probably due more to personalities than assessing the needs of the state, most legislators these days are found in one of three camps – the transportation people, the budget cutters and those wanting to fund all the social programs.
The transportation plan, which is the biggest gorilla in the Statehouse zoo, is getting a lot of attention, but that doesn’t mean it will ever make its way out of the place. It started when a task force developed a plan, just as it was asked to do, but then the governor changed it and it became his plan.
Now the House has passed its own version of the plan and sent it to the Senate, but it’s a foregone conclusion that when the Senate gets through with it the House won’t recognize it. This probably is the buildup for passing some kind of plan in the frenzy of the final minutes of double overtime, known as the veto session.
What will come out then is anybody’s guess, but it probably will have amendments in small print calling for a legislative pay raise with automatic pension increases, and stricter abortion laws.
There were some interesting wrinkles when the House passed its version of the transportation plan. The last time a highway bill of this magnitude passed the house was in 1989, and the Topeka delegation didn’t support it. So you might think that as a result Topeka didn’t get any new highways.
Wrong. Topeka got new highways north, south, east and west. It got so many new highways that this time around Topekan Doug Mays, the speaker pro tem, voted against the bill, reportedly saying the city has all it wants.
Next, when a highway bill leaves the house it would normally go to the Senate Transportation Committee, but this one went to the Tax Committee, thus avoiding the logical panel, where five of the six GOP members are religious right-wingers. Presumably, it would have gotten bogged down there with amendments making it illegal to operate an abortion clinic within 39 miles of the nearest highway.
And finally, the transportation plan that went from the House to the Senate was escorted by nine lobbyists, or one lobbyists for every four and a half senators. The math will work out, because there are a lot of half-senators at work. The head lobbyist, incidentally, is a Democrat, and you have to wonder how that helps.
The highlight film of the 1999 session for the Legislature will include a sharp comment from Wichita’s Carlos Mayans aimed at Speaker Robin Jennison. Mayans took exception to Jennison’s style, saying he left Cuba to get rid of a dictator, only to run into another one in the Kansas House.
What was funny about it is that Mayans, when he was chairman of the Public Health and Welfare Committee, had the reputation of being the most dictatorial person in the House. Statehouse regulars tell stories of women fleeing his meeting room crying, and weren’t surprised when the speaker replaced him.
The bad news for long suffering taxpayers so far this session is that it seems unlikely there will be both a big-time transportation plan and a new law phasing out the personal property tax on motor vehicles. If there’s no relief on the tax, it means Kansas will retain its unique practice of making it motorists pay for their cars and trucks twice.
Taxes have a way of surviving, and so do the religious right-wingers. Despite the humiliating defeat their leader, David Miller, took in the race for governor, and despite a near-wipeout statewide in the vote for local control of the party, the wingers (I am too full of Christian charity to call them wing-nuts) are still around in the Legislature, and still capable of disrupting he process and splitting the GOP.
Consider this: Moderate Republican Dick Bond was elected president of the Senate by one vote, and there are hints he won’t run for office again, and that some of his moderate cohorts won’t either. That could leave the door open for a disaster that could turn the Land of Ahs into the Land of Aws.
Best bet: Regardless of what else happens, lawmakers will go for a raise in pay before the session ends.