Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe): A Theory on Why the Governor Won't Make Cuts Himself

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Theory on Why the Governor Won't Make Cuts Himself

Lawmakers are up in arms that Gov. Brownback won't unilaterally make cuts to shore up the state's budget. Instead, Brownback's office announced last week that he will wait until the legislature convenes and work with lawmakers to address budget problems.

Cue the tiny violins. Republican legislators likely hoped the Governor would make cuts to spare them the politically challenging chore of doing it themselves. In short, they want cover, but they're not going to get it from Brownback.

In the past, I have been critical of Brownback for not providing necessary political cover. I was baffled back in June when the Governor approved a special session. He could have said no, allowing some cover for conservatives. I was frustrated when the Governor rescinded a controversial Sebelius directive and then said legislators would need to make a final decision. D'oh!

But Brownback's decision to wait until January and let lawmakers handle necessary cuts is one I completely understand. First, legislators should be in control of the purse strings. The current budget that everyone is raging about isn't really the Governor's. The legislature passed it. They compromised in 2012, removing all of the pay-fors from Brownback's proposal. He didn't craft the budget the legislature passed, but he's certainly hanging for it. The Governor has made some unilateral cuts in the face of budget shortfalls, but with a new legislature and likely a hostile one, it doesn't make much sense to give this batch of lawmakers political cover. 

Second, if polls and the recent primary and general election are to be believed, it appears voters don't actually want the Governor making the decision. Democrats, moderates and even some conservatives worked awfully hard at telling voters that they aren't Brownback allies. Some of it was political expedience, but the end result is that anyone who won using such a campaign tactic has an unrealistic expectation if they expect the Governor to fall on his sword for them now. 

Finally, this next legislative session is going to be a nasty one, and the Governor is a lame duck. Brownback will have limited leverage to accomplish anything or even to save some of his initiatives. If the Governor is still around through the 2017 legislative session, any tiny scrap of leverage will help. The Governor has already magnanimously said repeatedly that he doesn't like the word "veto" and that he refuses to say whether there are any policies he would reject right now. This means the Governor isn't much for playing offense. And if he's going to only use defense to advance his causes, he's going to need some bargaining chips. By not making cuts himself, he retains a few in his arsenal.

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