Archive for Sunday, April 14, 2002

Session ends; budget hangs

April 14, 2002


— Lawmakers ended the regular legislative session Saturday sniping at each other and leaving undone the major issue before them filling a $700 million revenue shortfall in a $4.4 billion budget.

The 90-day session ended with Republican leaders in the House and Senate exchanging jabs about which chamber was working harder.

And the Senate continued a bitter fight about congressional redistricting, giving final approval to a plan that moves Lawrence from the 3rd Congressional District into the 2nd District and readjusts the 2nd District westward to Jewell, Mitchell and Lincoln counties.

After the redistricting vote, senators argued for about a half-hour over scheduling of conference committee meetings before the overtime session starts May 1.

"I think we're tired. It's time to go home and have a little break," Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, said.

On the budget, both the House and Senate have approved spending plans for the fiscal year that starts July 1. But neither chamber has figured out how to pay for them. The House budget is $128 million in the hole, the Senate plan would require about a $300 million tax increase.

A conference committee of House and Senate members will start meeting April 23 to try to prepare a final budget for the full Legislature when the so-called wrap-up session starts.

Lawmakers started the session in January deep in the hole because of a slumping economy and dwindling state revenues. The hole continued to deepen and state officials reached some consensus that the final budget will require tax increases and deep cuts.

Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, said, "We have to negotiate a budget and we have to negotiate a tax package to go with it. It will be some of the most difficult negotiations probably in the last couple of decades for any legislative committees to put together because it's just crafting a very delicate compromise between two bills, neither of which anyone who votes for them will like."

Redistricting rifts

Kerr is presiding over a Senate wracked by fights over redistricting the once-a-decade process of redrawing political boundaries using new census data.

On Saturday, the Senate voted 21-19 to send the House a congressional plan that puts Lawrence in the 2nd District. The House has already approved a plan that would split Lawrence, roughly along Iowa Street, between the 2nd and 3rd districts. Both plans will likely go to a House-Senate conference committee.

Praeger voted for putting Lawrence in the 2nd District despite strong support by Lawrence city, county and chamber of commerce officials to keep Lawrence in the 3rd District with the Kansas City-area.

Praeger had on Friday voted for a plan to keep Lawrence in the 3rd District, but that proposal failed twice on 20-20 votes. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, who has pushed a plan for nearly a year to keep Lawrence in the 3rd District, asked Praeger to hold out longer, saying he could find another vote to break the tie.

But, he said, Praeger "folded like a cheap suitcase" to the wishes of Senate Republican leaders and went along with the map that puts Lawrence in the 2nd.

Praeger responded to the criticism, saying, "At this point in the process, we just needed to get a map to conference committee. We demonstrated (Friday) that we couldn't find agreement on other proposals and to start that process all over again I'm just not sure would have been productive."

She also said she was confident that the map approved by the Senate will not be the final product.

'A grotesque gerrymander'

Sen. Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said he hopes that is the case, since the proposal splits a 12-county area of southeast Kansas between the state's four congressional districts.

"On its face, this map is a grotesque gerrymander that only a political operative could love," Schmidt said. He said carving up southeast Kansas will dilute the voting strength of the poorest region of the state.

But the verbal fighting wasn't restricted to the Senate. Kerr criticized House leaders for allowing their members to go home on the last day of the session.

Kerr said they should have stayed Saturday to work on legislation in conference committees. "I'm an old farmer, I would have preferred to pull up weeds," Kerr said.

Glasscock seemed incredulous by the criticism, saying the House has spent most of the session waiting on the Senate to get its work done.

"He wants to pull weeds. We should be harvesting by now," he said.

One issue in conference committee is a plan to build research facilities at the state's three major universities, including Kansas University.

Both the House and Senate have given overwhelming support to the plan, but each chamber has approved different versions of the bill.

The Senate's proposal would issue a maximum of $130 million in bonds, while House negotiators have said they are willing to go up to $117 million. The House plan also would require that workers on the projects be paid the federally set prevailing wage for the jobs, while the Senate has refused to go along with that proposal.

The Senate plan also would pay the state's portion of the bonds $50 million with taxpayer funds, while the House proposal would divert lottery moneys now being used for economic development projects.

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