April 23, 2016

Kansas and Missouri lawmakers are in the homestretch of passing laws and budgets that will affect both states’ futures. It’s been a bumpy ride so far, and things could take a turn toward the ditch in the cash-starved Sunflower State.

The Kansas Legislature returns from spring break Wednesday, while the Missouri General Assembly is racing toward a May 13 adjournment.

Paging responsible Republicans

Kansas is going to need a lot more people like Rep. Melissa Rooker to solve its crushing, self-created budget woes.

The Fairway Republican has long pointed out the folly of Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 income tax cuts. She did it again Friday at a forum with Johnson County business leaders, sitting near House Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell and fellow Republicans Sen. Jim Denning and Reps. Jerry Lunn and Erin Davis.

“They were spinning the spin that Kansas is actually doing great,” Rooker said in an interview after her appearance, in which she pointed out the damage being done to state funding for roads, foster care and other public services.

A lot more havoc could be prevented if lawmakers reject Brownback’s latest irresponsible ideas to slice public services to deal with a $290 million shortfall.

Instead, when the Legislature returns, it should muster the political courage to repeal income tax cuts for 330,000 businesses and farmers, restoring $200 million or more a year to the state treasury.

The no-growth state for jobs

Fortunately, Rooker received warm applause from the crowd of Johnson Countians keenly aware of Kansas’ problems. Meanwhile, other GOP lawmakers spread their own delusions.

Merrick pointed to the state’s low unemployment rate — but ignored the appalling fact that Kansas gained zero jobs from March 2015 to March 2016, the seventh-worst rate in the nation.

And before Brownback and crew jump in with a bogus claim he’s made before — that it’s hard to grow jobs in a low unemployment state — let’s review that angle.

Of the 12 states with even lower March unemployment rates than Kansas, 11 had added jobs over the last year, some significantly. That included the Midwestern states of Iowa, up 15,300 jobs, and Nebraska, up 16,400.

The dire employment news is especially noteworthy because Brownback pledged his tax cuts would create a lot more jobs. That has not happened.

It’s the media’s fault, right?

Brownback and others have spent the last few years telling Kansans to blame the media for its twisted reporting.

Lunn went that route at Friday’s Johnson County meeting, saying, “If you listen to the media, it seems like the sky is falling all the time.”

Yes, it is difficult to ignore the month after month of missed revenue estimates, the lousy job reports and the recent news conference to announce a new $290 million budget shortfall.

But others are chiming in, too, with their own valid points about the ongoing disasters in Kansas.

▪ Transportation officials are rightly furious over Brownback’s continued diversions of hundreds of millions of dollars from road improvements. “It’s frustrating our leaders don’t understand what they’re doing to the transportation system,” said Bob Totten, executive vice president of the Kansas Contractors Association.

▪ Children’s advocates are fighting Brownback’s questionable idea to sell some part of the state’s settlement with tobacco companies to help balance the general fund budget. “Why would we permanently destroy our state’s thriving legacy for early childhood education in exchange for a temporary, one-time budget fix that does nothing to solve the problem?” said Shannon Cotsoradis, president of Kansas Action for Children.

▪ And here’s what a state senator said: “I think it’s time we do something structurally” to fix the budget. “And it’s easy to fix the tax exemption loophole.”

Oh, that’s actually from Denning, the GOP senator from Overland Park, who wants to push back against Brownback’s no-tax-hike pledge.

We apologize for reporting that negative-sounding news.

Bigots, abortion and more

A proposed “religious freedom” bill in Missouri could come up for a committee vote Monday. Lawmakers should reject this discriminatory nonsense.

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and other groups such as VisitKC admirably have stood up against Senate Joint Resolution 39, pushed by some Republicans after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

The state constitution does not need to be changed to protect people who, citing their religious beliefs, refuse to provide services to same-sex couples.

Finally, here’s some good news. Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer’s witch hunt against Planned Parenthood ended in a victory for the group late last week.

Schaefer had demanded that some of its leaders show up at a hearing on Monday; the threat of being jailed was tossed around. The organization fought back, saying Schaefer was trying to intimidate it into giving up patients’ documents.

In a resolution to the mess, some innocuous-sounding information at Planned Parenthood’s offices will be made available to lawmakers.

This attack was a waste of time and money, yet another reminder that the people of Kansas and Missouri deserve smoother running governments than they have.

Read more from Wichita Eagle.