Use the special session to support taxpayers

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly called legislators back for a special session starting tomorrow, ostensibly to deal with COVID-related issues.  But they already did so, and quite effectively.  House Bill 2054 provided legislative oversight to Kelly’s emergency management authority and spending federal COVID funds, and also provided much-needed liability protection for healthcare workers and businesses.

Kelly vetoed that bill because she doesn’t want legislators and taxpayers interfering with her authority, and she’s probably hoping for another bite at the Medicaid expansion apple.

Yesterday, she vetoed three more taxpayer-focused bills.  HB 2702 would have waived penalties and interest for 90 days on property tax bills people couldn’t afford to pay on May 10, and it also would have required local officials to be honest and vote on the entire property tax increase them impose.

Kansas Chamber CEO Alan Cobb put her action in proper context in a press release.

“Today could have marked a great day for Kansas families, seniors, and small businesses whose property taxes have increased exponentially without local governments having to vote for the tax increases. Instead, Governor Kelly chose to side with big government, confirming she is more concerned about government interests than the Kansas taxpayers who fund it.”

Kelly also vetoed HB 2619, which would have allowed the State Treasurer to arrange for up to $60 million in low-interest loans to struggling small businesses, using idle cash held by state and local governments.  Another victim of Kelly’s veto pen, HB 2510, would have provided free ACT exams for high school students and established the Kansas Promise Scholarship to make higher education more affordable.

Those bills are all dead now because the regular legislative session is over.  But a 1987 Attorney General opinion citing case law makes it clear that the length and subject matter of special sessions is entirely up to the Legislature.  So, if the majority of legislators are willing to take the time, they can right all of Kelly’s pro-government/anti-taxpayer wrongs.

The first step is passing a Joint Resolution of the House and Senate declaring they will only work on legislation related to what Kelly vetoed, and that the session will last long enough so any new vetoes can be overridden.

Committee hearings must then quickly take place to send new bills to the full House and Senate for debate and passage.  Once passed and received by the governor, she has ten days to sign them, veto them, or allow them to become law without her signature.  With the legislature still in session, they could override any vetoes with a two-thirds majority – and most of the bills Kelly vetoed met that threshold when they passed during the 2020 regular session.

Objections to a taxpayer-focused session

Some legislators just want to take a quick shot at a reworked emergency management and COVID liability bill that’s agreeable to Kelly, and then get out of town with no option to override a possible veto.  One of the reasons is that some of them fear Kelly’s allies will get Medicaid expansion passed if they’re in town for more than a couple of days.  But that could still happen even in a short session.  Senator Dinah Sykes made an unsuccessful run at breaking Senate rules last month with an amendment to expand Medicaid.  A joint resolution narrowing the session focus to vetoed legislation would add another layer of protection.

We’re also hearing that some legislators want a really short session so they can raise money and campaign for the August primary because fundraising is prohibited while legislators are in session.

A longer session dealing with important taxpayer-focused issues would cut into fundraising time, but how does one justify (effectively) saying, “Sorry, I don’t have time to represent your interests; I have to get myself re-elected.”

It’s a sad but regular state of affairs when politics take precedent over policy.  As one of my favorite economists, Thomas Sowell, says, “No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems.  They are trying to solve their own problems — of which getting elected and re-elected are No. 1 and No. 2.  Whatever is No. 3 is far behind”.

Here’s hoping enough legislators are willing to make taxpayers their #1 priority in the special session.