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Archive for Sunday, May 12, 2002

Session drags as lawmakers fail to agree

103 days on the job will tie record

May 12, 2002

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— Kansas lawmakers Saturday remained deadlocked over taxes and redistricting and then skedaddled for Mother's Day, ensuring that the 2002 legislative session would tie a record for longevity.

When the session resumes Monday, the Senate won't even return until the House passes a tax bill or other significant piece of legislation, Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, said.

"It's time to get the session over with," Kerr said as he sent senators home indefinitely, but on-call. "The Senate is simply out of work and waiting for the House to do its job."

But if that means passing a tax bill, it appeared the House was at an impasse.

Conservative Republicans were digging in against a nearly $300 million tax increase, saying that more should be cut from an already approved $4.4 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

At the House Republican Party caucus meeting, tempers erupted. Rep. Karen DiVita, R-Overland Park, said she was in the Legislature to represent her constituents and not to "kiss asses" of Republican leaders who wanted a tax increase. After her comments, several pro-tax Republicans left in a huff.

Democrats also have opposed tax bills pushed by moderate Republicans, saying the proposed increases were regressive and would hurt low- and middle-income Kansans the most.

Higher ed plans for cuts

But pressure to increase taxes continued to mount. The Kansas Board of Regents scheduled an emergency meeting Monday in response to Gov. Bill Graves' announcement that he would have to cut spending by 8 percent if the Legislature didn't send him a tax increase to sign into law.

For higher education that would mean a $56 million cut.

"These cuts would be catastrophic," Regents Chairman Clay Blair said, saying a $56 million reduction would be equivalent to shutting down Pittsburg State and Fort Hays State universities for one year.

Blair blamed representatives in the House "who have failed the citizenry."

"Members of that chamber claim they are supportive of education, but their actions indicate otherwise," he said.

Friday, the House voted 93-29 against a $300 million tax increase. That bill would have raised the state sales tax from 4.9 cents per dollar to 5.3 cents per dollar, the cigarette tax from 24 cents per pack to $1 per pack and reinstated the inheritance tax on distant relatives and unrelated heirs.

On Saturday, a House-Senate conference committee reloaded the tax bill with the same sales and inheritance tax increases, added liquor tax hikes, and reduced the cigarette tax increase to 65 cents per pack. The committee also added several industry tax breaks to the bill.

Rep. John Edmonds, R-Great Bend, said the tax breaks were being used as "carrots" to try and get more votes from House members with local businesses that would benefit from the tax breaks. Edmonds said the House would probably vote on the measure Monday.

Redistricting unresolved

Taxes weren't the only contentious item considered by lawmakers Saturday.

The Legislature remained at a standstill over congressional redistricting. Little progress was made, although key lawmakers said several proposals were being considered and would probably be voted on soon.

All of those in play split Lawrence between the 2nd and 3rd congressional districts, either down Iowa Street or down Kasold Drive. Lawrence is now almost entirely in the 3rd District.

Lawmakers said the major argument is whether to keep Junction City in the 2nd District or place it in the 1st District.

Gubernatorial politics alleged

Kerr blamed much of the impasse over the budget on gubernatorial politics, saying that Democratic candidate Kathleen Sebelius and conservative Republican candidate Tim Shallenburger were telling their allies in the House to reject tax increases in order to bring the Legislature to a halt.

"Kathleen Sebelius should let her people go and Tim Shallenburger should let his people go. If both these things were to happen, we would have an agreement on the budget before sundown," said Kerr, who also is considering whether to run for governor.

Spokespersons for Sebelius and Shallenburger said Kerr didn't know what he was talking about and that neither candidate was in contact with legislators telling them what to do.

"He (Kerr) is just trying to distract people from the indecision going on over there. They have a job to do and they should do it and not try to blame other people," Nicole Corcoran-Basso, a spokeswoman for Sebelius, said.

"He's as out of touch on this as he is on what his constituents are thinking around the state," Bob Murray, a spokesman for Shallenburger, said.

Breaking the record

Regardless of the reasons for the impasse, when lawmakers return Monday, it will be the 103rd day of the legislative session, which would tie it for the longest session, initially set in 1991.

The Legislature has met for 90 days in regular session, and it will be 13 days on Monday for the overtime session, which would also tie a record for longest overtime session that was set last year.

On Saturday, many senators were signing waivers so they would not be paid for Sunday. During legislative sessions, lawmakers normally receive $78.75 per day in pay and $85 for expenses for each day of the session, regardless of whether they meet.

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