OPINION

Legislature can’t return to the self-inflicted budget crises of the past

By Steve Morris and Anthony Hensley
Steve Morris
Anthony Hensley

Gov. Laura Kelly recently vetoed Senate Bill 50 — a disastrous piece of legislation that would effectively undermine our state's COVID-19 recovery efforts and long-term growth.

In her veto message, the governor said Senate Bill 50 would return Kansas to the era of perennial, self-inflicted budget crises that undermine our state's very fabric and foundation.

As the former Republican Senate president and former Democratic minority leader — we could not agree with her more.

Since she took office, the governor has been hard at work rebuilding our state's foundation, breathing new life into state agencies decimated by the failed policies of previous administrations.

She has prioritized making key investments in the fundamentals: education, economic development, infrastructure, health care and other core services that make Kansas a great place to be.

Her administration's efforts have been very successful – and even in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis that limited business activity worldwide, Kansas still brought in businesses, jobs and record numbers of capital investment.

And earlier this month, the Kansas Consensus Revenue Estimates projected the state would bring in $361 million more in fiscal years 2021 and 2022 than predicted in November.

While this news is optimistic, as longtime members of the Kansas Legislature — from both sides of the aisle — we know that we're not out of the woods. In fact, part of our current fiscal health is only possible through budget stability measures adopted at the request of Gov. Kelly during the pandemic that included asking agencies to sustain up to 10% in cuts.

News of the positive revenue numbers has prompted false claims from legislative leaders, saying that Kansas has the resources to enact the tax cuts laid out in Senate Bill 50 and indicating that they will try to override the governor’s veto.

These claims couldn't be further from the truth. It is absolutely paramount that the Legislature sustains this veto.

Senate Bill 50 is fiscally irresponsible legislation. It will blow a $307.7 million hole in our state general fund and effectively undo the promising progress Kansas has made over the past two years.

We know from experience what happens when we implement drastic tax cuts.

As former Kansas state senators, we watched together as the disastrous effects of the Brownback/Colyer tax experiment unfolded across the state.

We racked up record amounts of debt. Schools were stripped of their resources. State agencies were hollowed out, rendering them all but useless in their efforts to provide essential services to Kansans.

Our families, schools, roads, bridges, health care facilities and social services paid the price for these cuts — and Kansas earned a national reputation as a laughingstock.

Finally, in 2017, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers joined together to end the experiment and get Kansas back down the road to prosperity.

It's disappointing that, in just four years, Legislative leaders have forgotten what we've gone through, how our communities have suffered.

Kansans have not — and will not — forget.

Today, we call on Legislative leadership to remember the past — and commit to a better future.

To working with their colleagues across the aisle and with Gov. Kelly to develop bipartisan solutions for our families and businesses.

We must sustain the governor’s veto on Senate Bill 50 and look to the future — not return to past failures.

The people of Kansas depend on it.

Steve Morris was a Kansas senator from 1993-2013 and Senate president from 2005-2013. Anthony Hensley was a Kansas senator from 1993-2021 and minority leader from 1996-2021.