Randy Tayler, Taylor Newspapers
Republican members of the Kansas Legislature are being pushed into something they are unaccustomed to doing — working closely with a governor from the opposite party.
Oh, sure, they still hold opposite views on many issues facing them, and come March when the legislative session ends, each will fight tooth and nail to hail their own party as the ultimate protector of Kansas citizens.
But with $3.1 billion in surplus for the 2023 budget, thanks in large part to federal relief funds, it begs the question: How can we make laws and not let the other party get credit for all the good stuff?
With $4.9 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, about one tenth of it is earmarked in one of the state’s two main 2022 appropriation bills.
These APRA funds cannot be used to pad the state’s bank accounts, so lawmakers are using the opportunity to pay back some of the debts and financial maneuvering they used in 2017 and 2018 to keep the ship afloat.
In other words — for once, State Representatives and Senators are walking the Statehouse hallways with more congeniality than usual, both for the other party, and for a Democratic governor who has loaded her apron full of good-sounding programs that need funded.
For Democrats, it’s a win-win. This year’s windfall is the perfect opportunity to fund Gov. Kelly’s priorities. She will claim credit for every new job created and every bridge built.
And, for Republicans, it’s a chance to trim fat, still fund vital programs and blame a liberal governor when the overall budget gets bloated.
Watching via TV cameras from the mezzanines of both the Senate and House, it is noticeable that members are trotting more frequently across aisles to develop ideas that will end up in law books — and in the budget, which the governor must sign.
That’s a good thing.
With a strong majority in both houses, Republicans surely will have their way with conservative bills. But knowing a popular governor rides herd over the billions of federal dollars that will keep flowing in — it slows the stone-throwing in the Legislature.
In essence, it makes ornery girls and boys into mannerly ladies and gentlemen — for a time anyway.
Of course, someday soon, the federal dollars will dry up and everybody will return to hard-nosed bargaining, shunning the other party and coming up with ugly names to call those seated on the other side of the partisan aisle.
But for this year, Kansas people can enjoy watching William Shakespeare’s thoughts come to life: “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”
Rudy Taylor is co-publisher of Taylor Newspapers in Montgomery County. He is a member of the Kansas Press Association Hall of Fame.